Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When I Grow Up

What do I want to be when I grow up? Hmmm. I thought for a long time that that question had been answered, but now I am asking it again. It was tricky at 20; it's trickier still at 53.

So I'm in school again. I keep thinking I am sure as to why, then I'm not, then I am again. Meanwhile to pay most of the bills I am working outside in a niche gardening business I discovered back in the 80's and have rediscovered again now, thanks in no small part to my friend Bill Kunze.

For the most part what I do is help homeowners uncover and restore the beauty of their southern gardens or natural landscapes overrun by vines and volunteer trees of various kinds - mostly invasives. In addition to the general hard work of getting rid of smothering Wisteria, Smilax, Honeysuckle, Ivy and other vines, and digging out Ligustrum and Cherry Laurel and other bothersome volunteers, I also do a lot of careful pruning of treasured shrubs, as well as replanting when needed. These tasks thankfully take some skill - which makes me smile when I think of following Nanny around in her yard and learning to prune, graft, root and so forth. Who would have thought it would come in so handy? A focus on Botany in college didn't hurt either.

Sometimes I do basic labor intensive tasks like old fashioned weeding, spreading mulch, turning ground, and planting annuals. I also do follow up maintenance - bed maintenance - since stuff just keeps growing, and trying to come back...

I use only manual tools. In addition to getting paid a great benefit of the work is the peace and quiet. And I like fresh air. I mowed enough lawns and beathed enough exhaust to last me a lifetime in my younger days, though I don't mind using a manual reel mower. And since I take down lots of small trees you'd think I need a chain saw, but I have gotten really fast with my hand saw, and it's nice not having to deal with a finicky small engine, and who wants to start and restart a chain saw a hundred times over the course of a day. Not me.

When I started doing this work again last May I about croaked from the hard labor and heat. I am in much better shape now. I hadn't realized how important this was to my overall decompression and healing. It's funny how the body takes such a beating in a sedentary busy stressful suburban life. So, manual tools are good.

I don't use chemicals either, except for the occasional concentrated Round Up on a stump. I prefer digging stumps out though. With a shovel, an ax and a mattock - and a little sweat - I can take out most stumps pretty quickly. And they don't grow back.

Most damaged camellias and azaleas take a few seasons to get back into shape, but it is amazing just the good that sun and air will do them. Camellias particularly seem to weather the burden of being covered up for a long time.

Well, anyway, if I am going to do this for a while while I am in school again, I need a proper web site and such. I have been trying to decide on a business name and URL. The front runner idea involves discovering or rediscovering Eden, the idea being that there is much beauty buried under all the mess in your own backyard, and I can help you find it!

A friend sent me a tagline that I like, from Horace..."You can drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she keeps coming back." There are double/triple meanings in that tagline that I could play with.

So, as I continue to figure out what I want to be when I grown up, this business seems like a good thing to do. And whoever you may be reading this, if you have any ideas about the name/URL, let me know, OK?


I awoke AGAIN TODAY to a loud argument. The same argument day after day. Yack yack yack, Scree scree scree. Don't know how she puts up with it, the hawk that is. Would drive me crazy. This is one persistent hawk. He (she) has been in those pines by my window much of the summer and fall. I do wonder if hawks are ever driven totally insane by crows.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tea Olive

You don't really go to a Tea Olive; Tea Olive comes to you. You're walking along minding your own business and there it is - that rich creamy sweet sensation. And so you pause, close your eyes, breathe in, and smile. OK, where is it? Tea Olive aroma wafts and bends this way and that, and has a way of settling in at certain spots, not always next to the plant itself. So you look around.

Tea Olive is a large nondescript bush. The flowers are tiny, and you could walk by one in bloom ten times and not even notice. It's the smell that gets your attention. So there you are in a certain spot, holding onto that last breath while you look this way and that. There it is! You walk up to it, see the small white flowers, put your nose in and breathe, expecting....But, hmmm. It's less rich than the aroma fifteen feet over that way. Tea Olive is funny that way.

As for myself I like to shake the hands of my friends; with a Tea Olive this means shaking a branch. Tea Olive leaves rattle when the branch is shaken. They really do - and it's a dead give away. So go ahead and rattle a Tea Olive today.

There is another thing I like about Tea Olives; they bloom several times a year, at least here in Columbia. But I have never really figured out why they bloom when they do, and it's unpredictable. So after a week or two of enjoying the aroma the blooms drop off and back to normal everything goes. You forget all about that big green bush over there. Until next time that is. You are once again minding your own business, caught up in some really important thing, and there it is again, that smell. It always seems to sneak up on you. It is always - in that first moment- unexpected. It is always a gift.

If you won't tell anyone I will confess to something else about smelling Tea Olive. Usually when I walk into a cloud of Tea Olive aroma hovering in the air, and smile, I always - always - think of my dear dear Grandmother Nanny. And some of those times I cry, just a bit, a tiny tear, not a sob. I miss my Nanny so much. But my tears always turn back to smiles because I think of her loving her Tea Olive so, especially that big one near to the side door to her kitchen. I can see her, getting out of her car in the garage near the kitchen door, being hit by the Tea Olive aroma, smiling, and knowing the same feelings I know. And then I feel close to her.

These days I don't have much, not even a yard of my own. But today I had a Tea Olive. It doesn't matter that it was someone else's Tea Olive because ownership is a lot more than the legal right to dispose of or bar others from enjoying something. As the Apostle Paul said, "All things are ours." Which means for me I get to be thankful that God has blessed my neighbor with such a wonderful plant, feel glad for him, and just enjoy that Tea Olive as if it were mine.

Hope you run into a Tea Olive Aroma today.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Nouwen on the Poverty of Leaders

A friend sent me this piece from Henri Nouwen entitled "The Poverty of Our Leaders." It is primarily about church leaders but I can also see it applying to other leaders. I guess I can relate to this too...I always felt that poverty myself...

"There is a tendency to think about poverty, suffering, and pain as realities that happen primarily or even exclusively at the bottom of our Church. We seldom think of our leaders as poor. Still, there is great poverty, deep loneliness, painful isolation, real depression, and much emotional suffering at the top of our Church.....We need the courage to acknowledge the suffering of the leaders of our Church - its ministers, priests, bishops, and popes - and include them in this fellowship of the weak. When we are not distracted by the power, wealth, and success of those who offer leadership, we will soon discover their powerlessness, poverty, and failures and feel free to reach out to them with the same compassion we want to give to those at the bottom. In God's eyes there is no distance between bottom and top. There shouldn't be in our eyes either."