Star magnolias are in bloom and I’m spotting them everywhere. Since we’ve moved into our new house in the backwoods of King County, we’ve started exploring the neighborhood. It’s always fun to walk around a new neighborhood and check out the plants. While my kids are staring at the dog in the driveway I can’t take my eyes off of the well-placed alpine fir. Others might be interested in the size of the house, but I’m interested in the size of the garden….are those grow boxes? Look at that nice mulch! I can’t believe they planted those Leyland Cypress two feet apart!!! Every walk becomes a review of sorts. An assessment. What kind of neighborhood am I living in? Is it the typical Northwest rhodies and heather look? Maybe with an occasional sword fern thrown in? Or is it the manicured sheared hedges, lot of evergreen balls and squares? The landscrapers have been here! Often it’s overgrown.
Once in a while there are delightful surprises. Like the other day on a walk we passed a yard that made me pause. There was a small metal sign placed on a Douglas Fir that proclaimed it a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Of course I had to stop and look. I’m always curious about trees with small metal signs. I wonder what the tree would proclaim if it had a sign nailed to it. Maybe ‘Dog Free Zone’ or ‘Oxygen For Sale’ or ‘Hug Me’? Or perhaps a tree doesn’t really have to talk, it’s sufficient to just be, if you are a tree. So I was curious about this sign and this yard that was before me. I looked and saw a large open meadow filled with Grand Firs. Odd, to have so many grand firs together, a typical homeowner might plant one, perhaps two. But in this landscape there were ten, maybe fifteen grand firs. Suddenly I remembered a regular customer from the nursery that I worked at that bought just that many grand firs. I remember loading them into his truck. Week after week he came back for grand firs. As I continued to scan the yard I saw a beautiful wooden birdhouse custom built by another employee at the nursery. I knew that this customer loved wildlife. Then I started to recognize a whole lot of plants that this customer has bought over the past five years. What a fun surprise to find my old friends only half a mile from my new house! It was like a mini family reunion. ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you for years, look how you’ve grown! Your needles are a beautiful glossy green, which vitamins are you taking, N, P or K? Yes, I’ve got a new job now and miss all our friends at the nursery!’ It brought a smile to my face to see this happy familiar garden.
Since I’m a regular walker, I like to have designated routes in the neighborhood. This way I can plan ahead how long I am going to walk. Maybe I have time for only the short loop, or I might want to go all-the-way-around for a long walk. And of course I need to name these walks. Just as I like to know the names of plants, I like to name my walks. So the walk to the customers house with the little metal plate became the ‘grand fir walk’. The short walk down the next street over has several beautiful star magnolias, so it’s now ‘the magnolia walk’. A few streets over there’s a barn with the sign ‘Get R Done’ so now we have the get-r-done loop. Somehow it makes exercising more exciting, and it’s really fun to say get-r-done. It’s time to start writing more…get-r-done!
“I Am Vertical
But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them–
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
The the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.
“I Am Vertical”, 28 March 1961”
― Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems