Tickled Pink

My silent butterfly wind chimes captivate me now, the gentle spring breeze causing little movement in stark contrast to the nearly 40 mph winds ripping through my newly planted infant garden just three days ago. From beneath a blanket on the couch curled up with Charming and Netflix, I bristled a bit each time the chimes sounded. I had never before been so aware of their clamor.

In fact, I would have never referred to their melodious tinkling as clamor before. Dozens of Tuesday nights, they’ve accompanied me while I write in my “I Used to Be” document on my laptop. Saturday, however, less than twenty-four hours after sowing seeds, planting seedlings, arranging hanging baskets, and starting an herb garden, the persistent chimes signaled worry.

I’d planned carefully when I would begin this gardening season, waiting until the magnolias’ green leaves fully shaded the front lawn and the threat of the last frost was behind us. Anticipating further challenges, I hired a neighbor friend to install an outside water spigot. The unrelenting summer heat is equally as unforgiving to thirsty roots. A hose is far more practical than hauling gratuitous bucket after bucket from the kitchen sink to the yard.

Charming urged me to show him what I had done in the garden. We braved the winds and I pointed out each plant, explaining my vision. I was tickled as pink as my blooming azalea bushes that he’d expressed an interest in my novice hobby. (Perhaps I’m being generous, but a second-year gardener is promoted from amateur, right?)

Between the gusts that shook my hanging fuchsias baskets where my moonflowers will once again climb, I told Charming everything, pouring over the plant selection process. I’m not certain he was captivated, but he humored me nevertheless. I pointed out my favorite new installation, a mini shepherd’s hook boasting a tiny solar lantern atop and bearing impatiens on one arm and a copper tea-kettle bird feeder on the other.

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Right now, it’s partially hidden behind the azalea bushes. Right now, the impatiens, begonias, and coleus in the beds are miniscule globes in vast stretches of soil. Right now, the herb garden appears vacant. But the azaleas will shed their blossoms soon, and I’ll cut the branches back revealing the tea kettle. The flowers in the earth will quadruple in size within the coming months, until their leaves meet and the dirt is hidden. The herbs are latent, not vacant, with the potential to produce fresh basil, parsley, cilantro, and lavender.

I am confident about the azaleas and the flowers because I’ve tended that garden once before. My experience taught me what to expect. This year, I chose mostly plants I knew would thrive because they did last year. And when I planted different seeds, I did so with little invested. When plants died last spring, I felt a tinge of failure. Now I understand that each plant has varied potential for success given the climate unique to my yard.

So the herb garden concerns me most. It was the most expensive novel venture, and I hope the return on investment will wind up in my pasta sauce; still, when the chimes clamored on Saturday, I imagined the gusts carrying the thin layer of soil and the seeds beneath off into oblivion. When I showed Charming the garden beds, my narrative centered around what the garden would become, not the current infant state. I had no story for the herb garden. This is the essence of tapered dreams.

Typically, this is where I flush out an analogy. It was through my flowers last year that my weekly writing style emerged, uncovering my own growth in tandem with my garden. A relevant comparison elevates to appropriate neurons while I write. Tonight, a dozen anecdotes surface to consciousness, each with its own ornamented lesson.

When I was married, I was the azaleas blooming for the first time. When I was divorced, I was the azaleas shedding blossoms and losing branches. I didn’t know that I would blossom again, but winter takes its necessary toll on the life cycle, and I would eventually blossom again. I know, too, that there will be more loss and painful trimming. Before my nuptials, I hadn’t learned the rather emotional logic of expecting both.

Charming and I are more akin to the coleus, impatiens, and begonias. Having seen gardening successes and failures, I was highly selective in my beds’ foliage. Having seen relationship successes and failures, I was highly selective in my choice for a fairy tale prince. We’re still seedlings now, but my narratives tend to focus on what might be. If the climate is right… the shade, the temperature, the precipitation, the severity, I’m thinking we’d be captivating in full bloom. And from my geraniums decapitated by a fierce storm, I know that these “ifs” are nature’s unexpected curveballs despite how carefully we plan.

The herb garden, well, that’s my future. I’ve sown seeds throughout my existence. I’ve claimed a half a dozen identities – teacher, writer, singer, daughter, wife, ex-wife. Some seeds, like the book I wrote in my twenties, wither and die sixty pages in. Some seeds fight their way to life, mounting to trees cut down with a divorce decree four years later.

Other seeds, like my choice to change majors to English Education, have bloomed and multiplied such that new seeds are continually planted. With each fresh batch of adolescents, I learn new tricks that make my job fun based on the successes and failures of the previous bunch. And after they graduate, I accept their Facebook friend requests because I want to see what color they will be when they’re in full bloom.

My writing bent was latent for two years. I thought I wasn’t a writer anymore. I thought that flower had withered. I wouldn’t understand that it was simply dormant beneath a layer of disillusionment until shoots of green broke through soil and I started writing again fifty-seven weeks ago.

The reality is that I’ve planted seeds every time I made a significant choice, invested something, or committed myself. I cannot know if a seed will take root, thrive, die, or go into hibernation. I cannot even speculate as to the current state of seeds I’ve planted. My experience has taught me that there’s always a lesson in my garden. It’s the experiences that matter. Because we learn from them. We grow. We change.

The herb garden, winds whipping at the soil, is my future. I don’t know how much potential for life has been carried off by windstorms of the past. I cannot know if identities will ever sprout up for wife or mother or home-owner. It’s a mystery what will grow at all.

But what I learned as an amateur gardener reframes the herb garden. When I spotted tiny shoots of green breaking through brown soil last July, I actually giggled with glee. When they climbed the slats of my front porch, my excitement was unparalleled. That is, of course, until the huge white blossoms of my evening glories greeted me on a Tuesday night, warmer than this one.

I never know the future of any seed that I sow – any critical choice, investment, or commitment – but that knowledge alone won’t stop me from planting it. The potential for future joy and success is worth the calculated risk.

If my pasta sauce is seasoned with store-bought, dried herbs come August, I won’t regret trying something new. I can blame it on the wind, but either way, it just wasn’t meant to be. My wind chimes are still silent now. The storm has passed. Only time will reveal which seeds will thrive.

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