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Many of our contest entries every year celebrate the beauty of our land of "four gentle seasons." We liked Jeannie Miller's entry especially because it subtly links that outdoors world to the inner one, which is not always so gentle.

 

 

 

You Can Learn a Lot of Things from the Flowers

Sometimes spring comes just when you need it—and you really notice it for the first time ever.

By Jeannie Miller

 

You know, the deep early morning is only for your very own self. Soon, the Silver City wind will arrive, ready to toss the wind bells, making them dance and ring continuously throughout the day. But, in the now-crystal quiet, I step outside, listening carefully for that single pure note the silver wind chime sings as the whisper breeze passes by, and I consider:

"There's something to be said for the post-operative recovery period following major surgery."

"Yes! to those strict orders to lay low, be kind to yourself, don't lift, don't cook, don't do dishes or make beds or wash floors, do take naps, do sleep in."

"I do believe that my recent experience with this circumstance is the only time I can remember when I had absolutely NO GUILT for doing nothing."

And then, I realize that it was in this laid-back, guiltless state of mind that I discovered spring. . . .

 

Miller Mansion on 17th Street came to us with the following landscape: in the east yard, a large, raised, rock-wall planter under the master bedroom window, a newly laid-out xeriscape plot, one butterfly bush, and a row of sad-looking juniper bushes; in the south yard, a tall blue spruce towering over the roof of the house. A low Silver City rock wall, of the same style as the planter, followed the slope of the southern yard.

The wall did little to prevent someone in the houses across the street, on a higher elevation than ours, from gazing into our bedroom windows. Pantouffe, our super-sized Great Dane, had only to think about it and he could have stepped over it and loped downtown. So we employed Ruben to raise the wall to eight feet and continue it around the front of the house and up to the garage. When he finished, he attached our bronze "welcome" bell to the wall, right next to the gate with curlicue hearts. Our privacy was established and a new universe was born.

In Phoenix, our garden had consisted of petunias and marigolds in pots. The summer Phoenix heat demanded that the pots be watered several times a day in order to keep the plants alive. Our "garden" was a chore-ridden entity as we fought for its survival. Remembering all this effort for just a few pots, I imagined my Silver City garden with white sand and large dark rocks, artistically positioned, to represent peace and serenity. And, because all the gardening books insisted that it was folly to embark on planting without a complete plan for which plants should be placed next to which and in what order and design, I figured rocks and sand would allow me to bypass a lot of details and decisions. But we mere mortals are not privy to the ways of the cosmos. Came "The Wedding" last September and with it a change of plans for the Miller Mansion environs. . . .

The Wedding ceremony, to be held at our house, was planned for outdoors. The yard had to be presentable and accommodating. My focus for the project was simply this—color. The New Mexico Blue slat fence set the background for yellows, reds, whites and greens. Earlier in the year, at the Native Plant Society's annual plant sale, I'd purchased a variety of drought-resistant plants, based on the pictures in the slide show at the sale room. When I received them, they were tiny and flowerless. I situated them in the xeriscape area and hoped for the best. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart had tons of chrysanthemums—I bought 15 and planted them in the rock planter, in the ground and in pots around the yard. One new butterfly bush, awash in purple blossoms, was added to the front yard. I bought color and put it in place—wherever. The Wedding was a big success.

 

Fall arrived. Most of the flowering plants went to sleep. People were talking about planting bulbs for the spring and pansies for the winter. Bill at Flowerings suggested that I bury crocus bulbs deep in the planter and place pansies over them. The local nursery was selling crocus bulbs for outdoor gardens and paper white bulbs, hyacinth bulbs and amaryllis bulbs for indoor pots and indoor winter color. In her published journals, May Sarton described paper whites blooming in her window while snow covered the ground outdoors, and she chronicled the pushing up of the little crocus leaves and flowers through the snow, marking spring's not-too-distant arrival. Knowing nothing about paper whites or crocuses, I trusted May and Bill and followed directions.

Fall and winter of 2005 in Silver City were dry, warm and windy. In the absence of rain, I watered everything in the garden faithfully. It was in mid-February 2006 when Nature decided, "It's time for spring!" Although I hadn't a clue what that meant, I soon found out.

The pansies in the planter were exuberant. They loved their new home. Yellow daffodils, planted by one of the previous owners, came up in the planter and curtsied in the breeze. They appeared extraordinarily bright against the redwood siding of the house. The crocus bulbs sent striped leaves up through the pansies, and one day as I peered into the pansy patch, there between the Johnny Jump-ups and the white pansies with the purple funny faces, bright yellow, pure white and deep blue crocus blooms were opening to the sun. New leaves grew tall on the irises planted under the living room window. Their buds opened into glorious and regal white blooms. The young peach tree burst into pink flowers and green leaves, and the blue spruce pushed out an extra foot or so at the top and decorated itself with new red baby pinecones.

Suddenly, the desert plants began waking up! Each morning "somebody" new arrived. First came the red flowers on the low-to-the-ground penstemons. Next, the purple verbena, spreading across the rocks in the xeriscape section. The Spanish broom's green slender stalks budded and displayed bright yellow, intensely sweet-scented flowers. The desert grasses put out new shoots and the cholla and prickly pear, new buds. The purple penstemons went from mere sprouts to tall spears of violet drops. The tiny penstemon by the gate, which last year was trampled by the plumber, apparently recovered and reached up and out and twinkled with tiny white, five-petaled blossoms.

Over by the butterfly bush, I pulled out what I thought were weeds, only to discover they were some type of tiny bulb plant. I placed them back in the ground and within a week, I had little delicate flowers all along the blue fence. The desert primrose that I planted last year and figured had died and gone to heaven started blooming in great array by the front door, soon to be followed by the yarrow and the desert willow.

 

Each morning of the surgery recovery period, with coffee cup in hand and Pantouffe stepping on my heels, I checked in to see "who" had emerged since I went to sleep the night before. It was "someone" new every day.

In the race to get ready for The Wedding last year, I'd purchased lots of plants that didn't come to fruition as I had expected. In fact, I didn't remember even acquiring some of them. Now, thinking it was springtime, they decided to surface. They teased. They budded but didn't bloom until they were fully ready to party. I learned patience as I waited it out. I soon discovered that I had sunflowers—tall, golden and perfumed, attractive even after the blooms wilted. And lilies. And daisies. And some small purple flowers that used to grow in my mother's yard, but not in the abundance they exhibited in our planter. The pansies kept coming and the runt petunia from last year rejuvenated with deep-wine trumpets.

The yucca plant pushed out its rose-colored stems with pink buds that would open up into pale yellow flowers and invite in the hummingbirds. The lavender budded. The desert daisy plants displayed their white flowers. And one April morning, the whole north side of the xeriscape shined golden with California poppies, whose seeds must have traveled on the wind from the meadow behind our house.

I have to tell you that spring, for me, was always just a time for a break from school, a time of slightly better outdoor temperatures than those of winter or summer, a time of somewhat longer days, a time at work in which budgets were finalized and projects were planned for using the new fiscal year's monies, and a time of aching for summer laziness, which never came again, as long as I was working. I truly had no idea the birthing of nature exploded like this. The spring petunias around the Phoenix office buildings appeared because the grounds staff put them there, and the grounds staff changed them out each week so that new blooms were always on display. I thought that was how it all happened.

So, I had 60 years of spring non-awareness. But, in my 61st year, my consciousness found it. And that's okay, because it happened at the right time.

Now, every morning I greet the plants and every night, I wish them sweet dreams. I apologize if I have to cut them back and cheer them on when they regenerate. I salute the butterflies, the hummingbirds, and the bees as they swoop through the cacophony of scents and colors. I planted dill and nasturtiums in hopes that the butterflies will lay their eggs on them and the caterpillars will dine on them and then grow up to be new resident butterflies. I thank the earthworms for being in the rock planter. I instruct the aphids to leave. And I smile as the breeze rings the wind chimes, tuned to the A-minor scale, and dream about what I will plant next and where. I'm thinking tulips. Lots of tulips.

Spring is no longer a stopgap season for me. I love spring. And since I'm no longer gainfully employed, my wished-for lazy summer is real, offering me time to sit in my garden within its wildness and randomness and its total lack of design. I thank the universe every day that I didn't go with rocks and sand.

Let me quote May Sarton from her Plant Dreaming Deep. She says it so well:

"Making a garden is not a gentle hobby for the elderly, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so he will have to accept that his life is going to be radically changed. There are seasons when he will hesitate to travel, and if he does travel, his mind will be distracted by the thousand and one children he has left behind, children who are always in peril of one sort or another. However sober he may have been before, he will soon become an inveterate gambler who cuts his losses and begins again; he may think he intends to pare down on spending energy and money, but that is an illusion, and he soon learns that a garden is an ever-expanding venture. Whatever he had considered to be his profession has become an avocation. His vocation is his garden."

May all your springs be perfect and your gardens, glorious.

 

Jeannie Miller thanks the universe every morning for allowing her to live, love, garden and hike in Silver City. Her husband Glenn and her dogs Pantouffe and Sandulik feel the same way about things.

 

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