It’s been three years since I built up the garden beds framing the off-center steps leading to the red door of my rented bungalow in Downtown Hampton. Hauling scalloped red bricks, top soil, and brown mulch. Digging out hollows, ripping out weeds, pulling at vines without ends. The five azaleas bloomed in sequence then, like now, with two Starburst Strawberry pink bushes framing the front walk. For three years, April meant planting… but I’m not tending a garden this year.
It seems almost anticlimactic. A novice gardener, I didn’t realize that April’s showers would invite me to get my hands dirty. For more than thirty years, it wasn’t a hobby to feel the sweet sweat of a spring sunset warming the back of my neck as my fingers tangled with roots. Now, as the temperatures promise trends in warmer directions, I’m questioning my decision not to plant a garden. Hundreds of hours, I’d surmise, I took to the earth in this little yard, laboring for beauty that was worth the wait.
In essence, I grew with my garden… each day, each month, each season. We danced with Mother Nature, me and my evening glories and hydrangeas and impatiens. We bloomed and died together, were reborn, and yes it sounds dramatic, but like trees growing side by side, my own roots are intertwined with those of the knock out roses I planted that first spring here when I desperately needed to see something beautiful grow from me.
With a new life to build in Germany in July after we’re married, it seems illogical to nurture a garden this year. Vegetables are the practical seeds, starting indoors then transported to the soil about this time of the season. Their harvest, however, wouldn’t come until I’m gone. The time and money alone that a properly tended garden demands was enough to conclude I’d pass on the gardening this last year in my little home. Then today, I when I broke out the Craigslist lawnmower and prayed it would work for just a couple more months, I realized that though the overrun beds call to me, my shoulder reminded me that it cannot tend a garden. It couldn’t even start the mower. If a neighbor had been watching me trying to get my left arm to pull the line, he had his entertainment fill for the evening.
Once I had the coughing engine puttering pathetically, the lawn was a quick cut. Unfortunately, walking the entire grounds of my property forced me to take in the full effect of winter’s neglect. Dead leaves suffocate the flower beds while the vegetable garden is overrun with weeds and vines. Trash peeks out from between the azalea bushes. My knock out roses are out of control, entreating me to trim them back by pricking me as I walk by each day. I could navigate that mower, but I was done. I took one last, sad look at the neglected yard before tucking the lawnmower into the shed and dashing over to visit my brother’s kids. No, as much as this house beseeches me to take to my knees and start weeding, I have to accept that my body will keep me from making this place a growing fantasia.
Charming asked me last week if I would have gone ahead with this surgery had I known the recovery would be six months instead of six weeks. Of course not! Who plans to pack up a house, get married, and move to Germany with a bum dominant arm? My clumsiness is endearing to my students, fortunately, but the true loss exists in that which I won’t be able to take on. Every day, I watch fellow gym rats curling and bench pressing and I long to leave the elliptical machine I’ve been restricted to in the aftermath and doom of this surgery to repair my rotator cuff. I can’t do that. I can’t do a lot of things.
When I started this blog, it was about my growth as a person and a writer through the inspiration of planting my first garden. I can’t tend to the weeds in yard, but I can still write about it. We’re fully immersed in our poetry unit now, and my sophomores are catching my writing fever. The lessons fly by, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much they already know as we dissect masterpiece poems and figure out how author’s make choices about line breaks and punctuation. Each class spent a day in the library, flipping through page after page of dozens of books of poetry. Each student was tasked with selecting four poems.
One boy didn’t finish searching, and when I told him he needed to make some choices, he responded that he didn’t want to just pick any poems for a grade. He wanted to pick his poems, like I’d promised him, the poems he’d stumble upon while searching that were just waiting for him to read words penned long ago by a stranger. I smiled. He got it. Yes, I let him go back to the library. I can’t tend a flower garden, but I’ve been entrusted with other gardens to tend. I have a few months left to invest at Kecoughtan, and there are plenty of figurative weeds and vines to keep me mentally fit.
Perhaps because I have to keep ignoring the urge to go to Home Depot, I have extra energy to give my kids. It’s paying off, too. My last block class this afternoon shocked me with their insights on a complex poem. Identifying devices used by a poet is now child’s play. Now, they’re explaining that the alliteration of the “w” sound in “wind’s way and the whale’s way” from John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” actually simulates the sound of the wind and the waves, no Socratic leading necessary. In the last line, he concludes with, “a quiet sleep and a sweet dream,” and one girl announced Masefield had used assonance to sooth us. This is my fourth season planting at Kecoughtan, and this unit feels like the best in ten years of tenth grade poetry. It was a very good day for me. I got to see the blossoms of a different kind of planting.
When I mowed the lawn this afternoon, I thought about everything I couldn’t do because of the restrictions placed on me by my shoulder as prompted by my forlorn garden beds, adolescent epiphanies about poetry already forgotten with the demands of the current scenery. However, after a brief visit to my brother’s house, I suppose I’d had a little time to plant better perspective. Katarina and Theresa were listening as I read them stories they had picked out for bath time, playing with their plastic toys and “reading” the words sometimes. After Clifford caught the robbers, Kat exclaimed, “He got the bad guy!” It struck me as funny coming from this three year old’s lips. Where did she learn that? When I finished reading a prayer, her twin Tessa piped up, “God made everything!” I don’t have to wonder where she learned that, but it elicited an equal chuckle and grin from me.
They are three, almost four. I’ve been growing with them like my garden and my classroom, I suppose. There is so much they can’t do. Kat and Tessa are some of the most beautiful bloos God’s planted in my life, and they remind me what is possible when you don’t know you have any limitations in the first place. The twins make gains on a daily basis that are so subtle you’d miss them overnight, but even in a week’s time, roots deepen and they find themselves boasting about a new accomplishment… in complete sentences with vocabularies that remind me how grateful I am that my brother’s wife is an incredible reading interventionist. I can’t wait to see all that they will do… even if Skype gets the corner on that market while we’re living in Germany.
After all, it’s like Kat said as I was leaving, “You’re family.” I’m leaving Hampton. I’m leaving my garden beds and my classroom on CD hall and my sweet nieces and nephews, but there are no limitations for the potential growth God has for them and for me beyond that which we can do now. It doesn’t matter that I can’t dig out vines this year.
There are people in my garden to invest in now, while I can, where the potential for discovery will yield unexpected blossoms… like my nieces reminded me tonight. I came home and saw only the pink azaleas framing the front porch, brilliant and beautiful without any help from me. No annuals this year. I’ll labor in syntactical soil where I tend to souls instead, where growth will continue long after I turn in my keys to the red door that marks my Hampton home.