It’s not too early and not too late. I walk out into the garden clutching the cup of coffee, that is not too hot and not too cold. I think of going back to reheat it a little but I might miss something. The day is quickly approaching and soon the moon will be gone.
It feels almost warm as I open the back door. Almost balmy like a late spring day when all the damp and cold is gone. When things start coming up out of the ground feeling safe. Feeling like they can come up and grow. Be something again.
I haven’t written in so long. It seems I haven’t stepped out into the garden in so long.
What is new? Nothing. It has been too hot. Too cold. Too rainy. Too dry. Too windy. Too damp. Too humid. There were too many mosquitos. There were too many Japanese beetles.
I went out five or six times a day to pick the evil little things off the plants. Off the butterfly bush, off the anemones, off the variegated shrub. That shrub in front that Jan planted for me. Its long pointed leaves are splashed with white and green and cream. The stems are a bright fuchsia. And in the fall when most flowering shrubs have stopped blooming, it explodes with tiny delicate white flowers like Babies Breath. Fragrant, dazzling, sparkling like diamonds in the rain. A sweet sticky nectar flowed out of those flowers.
The beetles loved that shrub. Slept in it, sat on it, flew around on it. Mated in it. Sometimes three or four at a time… on top of each other like tiny demon acrobats. “How disgusting!” you screamed the first time you saw that. But mostly they just devoured it. Sitting there chomping like monsters. Their metallic brown green armor shining in the searing sun. Soon after their ravishing, the shrub turned an ugly brown with holes all over the delicate leaves. Until I came out, a raging garden warrior, with the jar of foaming water and picked them off one by one and let them die. Drown. Watching them struggle madly in the sudsy water to their soapy death. Those things are the only living creatures I did not mind disposing of. Dispatching. An ugly thing to do I know. But a garden can be an ugly thing sometimes.
The worst thing those beetles did. Yes, I am still obsessed with those beetles. Because I wonder why such ugly disgusting little things exist. The worst, the ugliest thing to see early in the morning or evening are these creatures in roses. Like my old beloved pink-apricot peony roses that ramble over the iron (rusting now) arbor.
I wake up on a sometimes clear, bright, gently warm and fragrant summer day. Fragrant in large part because of these exquisite roses, and then upon closer inspection, see a spot of dark brown and black and see those creatures hiding, sneaking deep inside the roses, eating the centers, ravishing the newly opening bud, gouging them with black holes. Or on a newly opened rose, totally unfurled, smiling so wide and deep and you suddenly see it’s already dying. The center eaten and the beetles there hiding, in between the petals. You reach down and they know you are out to get them and they try to wiggle down deeper. Sometimes they actually manage to fly away. Other times they are so drunk from the nectar and perfume of the flowers, you just have to tap the blossom and they fall into the jar of death.
The moon this dawn. So silent. So present. So far up and yet it felt like it was whispering in my ear. Breathing down on the street. Glowing deep inside my heart. Telling me something. But once again I do not know what.
Twenty years a wanderer down this driveway, this sidewalk, staring at the house I live in. The jade green shutters, the jade green door. Scarred from the neon sun these last burning summers. A little more ragged now. A little more shabby. Just like me. Those Junipers in front so big and fat, almost obliterating the shutters and the door. Looking like big cartoons. Looking like they will explode. Looking like they could hide the moon itself.
Those shrubs are home to dozens of birds. They sleep there. They hide there. They shelter there in the winter and in the rain and cold and they fly inside when the thunder and lightning comes. When it’s thirty-five below they huddle there. And, sometimes during a fine winter storm when the snow is thick and white and powdery… Soft. Almost like warm snow. Like feathers. Like a comforter. Like warm hands. Like this porcelain cup of coffee. They sit there and start singing or chirping or sighing. I hear them sometimes, when I am coming up the path early in the morning or sometimes at dusk or very late at night. I can hear them breathing dreaming sleeping and sometimes they greet me with voices like silver like gold like sparkling rivers.
I forgot to paint the windows this summer. I thought I would wait for fall. But fall is here. I forgot to clean out the basement. I didn’t even air it out this summer. All the vases have not been put away. All the cookbooks I was going to give away still line the metal shelves. All the drafts of old things written filling the bookcases. All the old calendars with dates of dinners and celebrations appointments interviews and assignations. That old but beautiful chair with the missing leg. I still have not fixed it. I bought it in 1984. The old conference room chairs from that old building on Jackson St. I paid fourteen dollars for it.
My tennis racket. My old fireplace tools. The two bookcases filled with 1,000 photos of the garden. I never sent them to you. It may be too late. You can’t see too much now out of those hazel eyes…..
Arturo came and expanded the flowerbed in front. All the Hydrangeas and Helleborus and that beautiful almond tree.. the one with the frothy pink flowers. Oh that alone is worth waiting a thousand years for. They were all packed in so tight and formed a sort of weird collage of leaves and stems and branches. They looked claustrophobic, choking, struggling, unruly and unhappy, sad and wild, and a little shabby. They looked like refugees. Like foreigners. Poor. Alienated. Unwanted. Unkempt. Pushed together in a mass of chaotic nothings.
And that small chartreuse shrub the O’Neill’s gave me, as an apology for running over all the marigolds when they drove up the driveway that fall two years ago… That shrub was literally growing underneath the almond tree. We took it out and planted it at the rounded corner of the new bed. It looked instantly happy. One part is dark green and one part chartreuse. The dark green part got no sun as it was growing inside the almond tree. But what a lovely fragrant warm shelter that must have been! Now it looks happy but a bit startled, growing there by itself, having suddenly all this space and air and sun. The Helleborus looking dark green and shiny. Glad to be out from the frizzled hydrangea leaves and flowers. Suddenly the whole bed got even larger, wider, everything inside it loomed big and happy and I almost heard all the little plants and shrubs and flowers whisper to me…. “Thank You.”
So I walked out this morning to admire the new bed. I walked around in the almost dark. Drinking my coffee. Feeling the moon high above me like an amber halo. I think it was sighing, singing, breathing, watching me. The smoky amber clouds floating in and out of the moon face. No cars no dogs no people out, so I could wander up and down the street, looking at my lovely new flower bed, staring up at my five-year old maple, that really, I have not looked at too closely the last five years. It is getting tall and wide and finally looks like a tree. Filling in just a little bit the space left behind by the thirty-foot Elm that had to go.
I see its leaves are turning amber too. Amber and orange and mahogany. The too hot too cold too frosty too rainless too sunless early fall has kept so many leaves green. But here and there you see deep red, startling yellow, lemony and orange and reddish things like something on your kitchen counter, like something jumping out of a bag like something out of a crazy cartoon.
Life is like a cartoon really. The bad guys all around. Beating and screaming and throttling and pounding and punching everything in sight. Bombs fires floods hailstorms and tsunamis. Guns everywhere. I wonder if today I will get shot.
Tom sent me a book the other day. It came in a big brown envelope. I heard the UPS driver toss it on the doorstop where it made a big thud. I went out to look and it was so big and brown and strange-looking. I don’t get too many parcels. The first thing I thought. Was it a bomb? It had no return address. It wasn’t my birthday or a holiday. I didn’t order anything. It was a while before I opened it.
It was a book. “Flame”. Of Leonard Cohen drawings, lyrics and poems. I wonder where Leonard Cohen is now. I always wondered where Leonard Cohen was whenever I heard him singing. Songs like ” Dance me to the End of Love”, “A Thousand Kisses Deep”….. “Blue Raincoat”….. I wonder where he is now that he’s dead. I think I would just about follow Leonard Cohen anywhere he went.
The light came too quickly and the soothing darkness fading, the moon wandering off to someplace more interesting. Time to go in and sweep and dust and air out something. The temperature is in the 50’s and there is time still to do things before the raging winds come. The snows. Maybe.
I noticed the other day that the park across the street smells like marzipan. I am not sure where it is coming from. The goldenrod is gone as are the Black-eyed Susans. But there are masses of tiny asters in pink and lavender and white and deep purple. The pink anemones in front of the park hung on and on. Long after mine were gone. The white Honorine Joberts are everywhere Also masses of pink roses. The small low to the ground shrubby ones with no smell. The fake ones but they still look pretty. I noticed the gardeners in the park (if you can call them gardeners) cut down all the irises… the fall ones that were blooming so beautifully! So many people go out and cut things down that are still blooming, still growing, still unfurling. All to make things neat and tidy, short and narrow, uncluttered and straight. A garden is not a house and should not be neat and tidy and clipped to pieces.
One major thing happened in my garden this September that made me want to leave again. The gardeners (butchers) who work for my next door neighbors destroyed my Actinidia Kolomikta vine. I was out wandering early one morning in September enjoying the newly bought chrysanthemums, the pots of late summer flowers, the still green manicured grass, the leafiness of all the shrubs and trees, but felt a large emptiness even though it was 6:30 am. And then I saw, or didn’t see… the large beautifully tangled branches of the vine that spilled over to the other side…Gone, cut off ,decimated. All those lush still green variegated leaves gone. They actually shoved their grubby murderous hands over the fence into the top space of my yard and cut that part completely off. Butchered it. Leaving one long dangling branch that hung down painfully, mournfully, holding on to nothing. Swaying there, dangling in mid-air like a dead snake.
Part of the vine was growing gently through the branches of my Serviceberry tree and they butchered that too. They must have leaned way over their ladders to my side of the fence and yanked it out so it would not.. What? I don’t even know how a gardener could be that stupid.. that insensitive that ….. dull… that unknowing. Torpid. It feels so… Torpid.
I now see the electric poles and wires, my neighbor’s massively wide and looming brick McMansion, their basketball hoops, their huge plasma TV. At night when I wander around I can see what program they are watching. Who wants to watch television in a garden?
That shrub took twenty years to grow that tall and lush. And finally, just a few years ago it started to produce those magic leaves. At first green and white then an almost silver and then rose pink. The colors splashed on like soft and weathered paint. Then the flowers came! Masses and masses of tiny, white fragrant flowers more enthralling even than Lilies of the Valley. All gone now. Some gardeners are butchers and some neighbors are not worth having.
My anger after four weeks is almost gone. Until I go out in the garden and look up and see no old and gracious gnarly vine. Twenty years of growth and beauty destroyed.
That’s why it’s best to wander in your robe in the dark under the night sky under the twinkling stars smelling marzipan from across the street. In the dark when your neighbor’s naked house is covered in mist and it’s just you you you and the moon and the sleeping birds in the big fat bushes someone planted almost a hundred years ago.