I’ll be pausing the becoming-Catholic blogging for a bit so I can focus on getting this hymn album complete in time for the planned release and tour in late June! Watch for pre-sales to start in the next week or two…
I have been learning about gardening in the midwest with native plants.
(Do not laugh, loves who are aware of my brown thumb. Stop snickering. THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT.)
Our backyard, being as it is a small slice of glorious wet mesic woods, is stuffed with wildflowers and trees and reminds me daily of my grandparents’ home in Morgan County. I have loved it, been blessed and benedicted by it a thousand times a day since the moment we moved into this blessing of a home, sing its birds and walk its dutchman’s breeches, its Mayapples and jack-in-the-pulpits. I defended it, implacable, against all well-meaning attempts to suggest that it might be too dark, too many trees, too wet, too messy. It was God’s gift to me, and I was its protector.
Yet, understandably, situated as it is in kempt suburbia, it has a tendency to look a bit out of place and worry folks.
And so I checked out a library book on native habitats in Indiana, making home for plants and trees and animal life that somehow looks like someone might be taking care of it.
A childhood friend of my late father’s, it transpires, raises native plant species in West Lafayette, and he’s coming over later this week to bring some shrubs and help me think through longer-term planning.
So I, naturally, have been doing research. Plotting trees on a grid – what is this? a beech or a maple? We have a regular and a shagbark hickory. What are these shrubs? These vines?
And the more I come to learn the land, the more I realize that there are plants I don’t actually want here.
I ripped out most of the poison ivy last summer; not much is out yet this year. That’s an obvious one. But all the false Virginia creeper? It’s everywhere, and tonight I decided, no more of it. Not a bad plant; some people probably cultivate it. But it is climbing over all my pretty serviceberry and sumac, and hiding the scrubby little maple starts that I need to cut. The golden ragweed that’s covering farmfields in yellow glory? It’s beautiful from a distance, but I don’t think I want it completely swallowing my backyard in its tuberous, soldierly stems.
(I thought about a controlled burn, but…probably not a good amateur hour experiment.)
Tonight, the children were asleep before dark. So I found my gloves and put canvas shoes on with my pajama pants, and went into the backyard. I started on the side, where I hope to plant a series of elderberry bushes along the fence. And I started pulling up the creeper.
One vine weaving over and under another
Pulling up earth and unwinding violently from shrubs and trees
Uprooting with some kind of satisfaction and plucking
Each vine leading to another knot of crisscrossing roots to discover and pull and force release
It is good, I hear myself praying
It is good, I feel my breath slowing
All of these attempts at life, all of these growers do not belong in my land (they do not belong in the garden You have set me to tend)
Not unbeautiful in another place
The litany unfurls, roots plucked with little sucking pops
The darkness sits one degree heavier and I know it is time to halt
(I could keep going, but my God, have I not yet learned to honor a season?)
I look up from the ground and the roots and the flapping pile of vines
And I see a small strip of my woods
Shrubs I didn’t recognize before because I didn’t know their names, and couldn’t distinguish them among the green chaos – stretching slender arms, it seems to me
I can smell the spicebush on my fingers, where I rubbed and bruised its leaves to know it:
I hear this:
A season: don’t touch it. It needs to grow. It needs to flourish and expand and fill the land with its green wildness.
A season: discern what is meant to become. Prune the vine. Invite the vinedresser.
Pungent spicebush and dusk and a nascent path emerging
its space vacated by the plants who were never meant to grow here