Summer’s Sweetest Scent

I sense it the moment they open.  The air is instantly different.  Heavier with fragrance, yet lighter and warmer with summer’s sweetest scent.   It is as if the world has stopped.  And I am encapsulated within a gossamer cocoon, spun of the perfume of tiny yellow blooms peeking out shyly from among the silvery green leaves of its tree.

You cannot even see them, until looking close.  Close enough to notice their bright yellow eyes, their sweet scent almost visibly aloft in pale waves upon the summer’s evening air, proclaiming dreamily that summer is here.

.

I’d love to bottle their sensory beauty, corking it carefully airtight, and displaying it reverently upon a shelf.  But it wouldn’t be enough to just look at it.  I wouldn’t be able to resist its summery magnetism, opening it slowly with its soft scent taking me back to June, no matter the month.

One summer evening years ago, as they were just beginning to unfurl their fragrant blooms, I thought there could be nothing more perfect than cutting a few branches to put in a vase in my house.  I imagined their perfume lightly scenting my entire house, waking me in the mornings with their sheer, veiled aura.  But after only a few hours, their scent had fermented into something hotly putrid and overpowering.  I’m not sure if it was their anger at being cut from their mother trees or the extremely close proximity, but I quickly realized that some things are better left unrestrained, wild and floating freely on the hint of a summer breeze.  That they just cannot be bridled and harnessed into a vase indoors.  They must be aloft upon the breeze, their yellow scented pollen riding happily to destinations unknown.  Their strong scent diluted with the warmth of the air, moving and swirling their fragrance here, there and everywhere.

Of all the many scents in the world, I know it is my favorite. It is memories of small towns in summer, of tall grass growing green in the hay fields, swaying with the breeze like a loosely-threaded tide.   It is memories of summer concerts, the music rising and mingling with their perfume upon the still summer air.  Of barbecued ribs, and warm evenings not yet disturbed by the hum of mosquitos, serenaded with its sweet scent upon the dusk.  It is the feeling of night’s coolness slowly filtering across our little valley from the wet rushing of the river, dampening the grass and the day’s memories with dew.  And in the morning, its perfume rises again, lifted from its tiny yellow petals to be wafted upon the light air for another day.

How I wish it lasted all summer, this perfect essence of fragrance.  Ushering us into and out of summertime, like a graceful doorman, visible with the first opening of the glass door to summertime, but almost unnoticeable the remainder of the summer with his well-trained etiquette and quiet existence.  Eventually they would escort us out of summer without even a goodbye, only the faint fading of their scented beauty growing slighter and slighter, until we no longer even miss their presence.

Alas, we are blessed with but a week of heaven in June.  Maybe that makes its arrival all the sweeter, and its exit all the more lonely in its abrupt end.  Its short-lived aromatic culmination something relegated to just memory again for another year

So as the lovely season of the fragrant Russian Olives draws to an end, may you find the time to be still, soaking up the most of what comes around just once a season.  May you enjoy the sweet scent of summertime upon the warm breeze and may you relish the many blessings summer brings.

*As a footnote, I feel I must tell you that the Russian Olive tree is an outlaw.  It is a foreign species that gained notoriety for its overtaking of western river banks since it was introduced to the US in the late 1800’s.  But in its defense, it is without a doubt, a scrappy survivor.  With shoots of sharply-thorned branches hurtling forth from its trunk almost daily, it doesn’t mourn for the weak.   Their roots ground them in odd places, unfit for other trees.  They thrive in sand and poor soil, reaching deeper and deeper for water and nutrients. And according to multiple sources, their roots can produce their own nitrogen, allowing them to grow even in nutrient-deprived soil.  They have a bad habit of out competing our native trees and shrubs in wild areas and they enlist the help of our feathered friends, who gorge upon the tree’s ripened berries, to disperse their seeds.  The Russian Olive is currently classified as an invasive species in Colorado and 29 other states.  For this reason,Colorado banned the sale of Russian Olive trees within the state to its residents in 2002.

Advertisements

Prelude to Summer

The first to bloom were the purple irises in a large clump.  From chiffon-shrouded buds, they curled their purple petals open, revealing a hint of glimmering gold.  They stood tall, their grape fragrance catching you just as you passed by, causing you to look again, surely that grape scent hadn’t come from them?  But it had, and as a slight breeze carried their fragrant symphony delicately forth, the bees buzzed and hummed, enjoying summer’s first taste of song.

Then it was a tight ball of a peony bud, bursting open with its huge, single petals as if proclaiming, “Look at me!  I am the first of the peonies, none can surely be as magnificent!”  And they may not be, because nothing is as amazing as that first peony exploding into bright bloom in the garden, no matter its color, its size or its type.  From atop strong, tall stems, my first-born peony of the summer looks across its counterparts in the garden, crowning itself with a golden center of bright stamens.  And nothing quite prepares you for the disappointment as its concerto quickly fades and one by one its petals lose their grip, and flutter to the ground.  Their beautiful interlude just a memory, as its dark petals stain the rocks pink with morning dew.

From tight-coiled cones, my white allium were next on stage.  Their stems swelled and swelled until one morning, feathery white headdresses emerged.  Theirs was a soft minuet formed with the slight scent of an onion and chive-like stalks, waving gently in the breeze.  And their small clumps throughout my garden performed long-blooming solos in white.  The only white blooms in my garden, they warrant a standing ovation for their brave deviance from the bright colors that take over later in the summer.

Without intermission, an heirloom yellow shrub rose performed a final, golden overture among its deep green, glossy leaves.  The morning sun’s light setting their petals aflame. In an instant, they seemed to go from bud to bloom to flailed petals, scattering on the ground below.  A brief, yet lovely, sonata of color, fragrance and thorns.  Here now, gone tomorrow, nothing but a golden dream blurred sharply in our minds.

There are certain times in life where the work just must stop, the music must be heard and the world’s most beautiful moments must be applauded.  The weeding could wait.  The watering could wait.  These were times to look over the first of my blooming bounty, cherishing the very magnificence of an iridescent, silken petal tempted open by the sun’s warm encouragement.  This was a time to watch in wonder as butterflies descended from windy heights, swirling madly, but somehow ending upright atop a pollen-encrusted bloom.  This was a time to feel excitement like goosebumps on my arms, for the magical, visual sound that is just beginning, each new bloom an instrument, only just refraining at the final stanza of their prelude.

And as all these instruments of a springtime garden came together, a late spring orchestra culminated in one grand crescendo, diminishing back down with sweet, soft notes . . . promising a symphony yet to come.

And so it begins . . .

It finally arrived.  The day I’ve dreamt about for the past six months.  The moment you whisk through the doors of a plastic-encased shrine to all things budding and blooming.  The warm smell of fragrant, green-leafed humidity and rich, perlite-dotted soil envelopes you immediately, fanned around you lightly by huge metal blades whisping slowly at the other end of this inverted half-pipe of flora and fauna.  An array of pots beckoning you, enticing you with bright colors, textures and opportunities and the unequivocal instant emotion of hopeful inspiration.

There is just nothing quite like that first deep breath of the summer season inhaled in a greenhouse.  That moment when all things seem possible, even the deep burgundy-robed miniature calla lily hidden in the corner, out of sight of its much humbler Zone 4 flowering neighbors.  Who’s to say how its exotic beauty even made it close to this place, with delicate blooms not well suited for Colorado’s cool nights and short summers.  Maybe it hitchhiked, escaping its hot, humid home, catching a free ride with a delivery van undiscovered, destination unknown.  But somehow, at that moment, even this tropical variety seems do-able.

The possibilities are endless.  As are the trips up and down the aisles.  Slowly surveying the wondrous displays of seeds, turned seedlings, thinned and transplanted, fed and fertilized until robust, with blooms stretched upward as if arms waving at you boldly, saying “Pick me!  Pick me!”

And the competition is stiff.  Pinks, yellows, reds, purple, orange and even blue.  Tall, short, bold, delicate.  The bright eyes of the almost-neon-bright geraniums follow you carefully up and down the aisles, the queens of potted annuals keeping a close eye on their rows of supporting actors.  The sweet, faces of pansies smiling innocently, nodding at you as you pass.

Bright marigolds, uncurling their ruffled arms, laughing happily in deep oranges and yellows.

White bacopa and periwinkle lobelia trail down their pots, following you, begging you to take them with you.

As I scoured the rows over and over today, not so much undecided as simply admiring the beauty, the fragrance and the first of this summer’s blooming bounty, a light mist of small raindrops began tinkling lightly upon the clear plastic roof over us.  Summer’s first sweet orchestra, playing gently and rhythmically, lulling me to wish I could sleep if just for a moment in this perfect place among the flowers, awakening later to their fragrant harmonies of color and the scent of freshly fallen rain.

But today, the afternoon will have to be enough.  I will leave what remains in the care of the fluttering butterflies and sphinx moths, carefully wafting from one flower to the next.

May you enjoy the first of summer’s blessings and embrace the hope of the nearly endless possibilities it offers.

Where the Metal Meets the Dirt

I found them earlier this year.  Paint peeling, marred with scratches and gouges, scarred with rusty scabs, I knew they would be perfect in my little country garden.

I like to think it was manifest destiny, a magnetic pull that brought me to their hiding places two states away.  Trapped within a rusty boneyard of repurposed old metal, I saw through their neighboring junk and felt myself mesmerized by their rough, rusted beauty.  Although still winter, I was already dreaming of their scrolled curves flanked by green leaves, the sun glinting through their open filigrees, a flowering vine creeping carefully up their metal spines.  I knew their home would be my garden.

So after patiently waiting in my dark shed all spring, a few weeks ago they saw their future home for the first time.  How they sun must have quickly warmed their cold metal as I brought them into my slowly awakening garden.  We moved them here.  Then there.  And back.  Until I had found the perfect angle in that far corner of my garden.   They were perfect, just as I had imagined.  They were like long lost friends that I had stumbled upon, not realizing it was garden destiny.

That day we sliced the warm dirt apart with a pick, digging a thin slit in the ground to anchor the heavy weight of its frame.  And as we carefully tamped the dirt down around its base, there was a magical moment when my red scrolled gate stood on its own, rising above my garden, whispering wordlessly of that enchanting, magical threshold that gates and doors instinctively evoke.  And begging questions like

What is beyond?  Where will this lead? And Where have I been?

Where do your dreams meet the reality of the dirt?  Your dreams, too, may find themselves leaned up against a wall in your shed, far from sight and farther from mind.  No matter the business of life, the errands to run, the schedules to keep, the procrastinated projects pulling at you, they will be there still, waiting in the far depths of your mind patiently.

Collecting dust and being pushed further and further into corners, they will wait.

Until one day you come across them again, still beautiful in their dusty, dirty, abandoned corner.  Maybe you will have forgotten all about the bright hope they once shone in your heart.   Or maybe it will seem like just yesterday when you daydreamed of them constantly, feeling they were just within reach.  Will you have the courage to pull your dreams from the depths, dust them off, and move them around in your life until you find the perfect place within your garden?

That day this winter, with my new finds somehow strategically fitted into our vehicle, my heart fluttered with dreams of terra cotta pots, filled to the brim with cascading petunias, seated happily upon my white rusted garden bench.  Of oversized clematis blooms climbing vigorously up the sides of my red rusted gate.  And of the sense of magic I knew they would instantly ignite within my growing garden.

I couldn’t wait for my coneflowers to open their bright petalled eyes this summer to see their new neighbors.  A dream, small as it was, that came to find its feet planted stoutly in the dirt.

Just a Spot of Sunshine

My cats are attracted to them.

Just a spot of sunshine is all they need.  A shining place to curl up and be embraced by the bright warmth, to be coaxed into a sleepy nap.  They have a knack for finding them —  those sometimes out-of-the-way spots of bright light that have been cast just beyond a chair or up next to a wall.  Or even on top of a turquoise flip flop.

Do you have a little spot of sunshine?  It may be a special place.  A pond lined with cattail bird roosts and fuzzy-budded willows.  A velvety chenille blanket, a mug of steaming coffee and a riveting book.  Or maybe an old truck, rusted on the outside, its aged seatcovers still scented sharply with gasoline and musty sweat on the inside.

Two spots of sunshine, in the form of my nephews.

.

Maybe it’s a special person.  A grandson that hugs you with his whole being on legs that never seem to stop running.  A friend made long ago, separated now by years and distance, that you can start up with again right where you left off years ago.  Maybe that spot of sunshine is someone who can make you laugh and giggle, no matter the situation.

.

Where are you drawn, like cats to sunny spots?  Where do you go to feel safely embraced with warmth and happiness? What is your little spot of sunshine?

My sunny spot consists of gravel paths leading through slightly raised beds, a blooming haven of bumble bees, hummingbirds and usually a napping kitty or two.  It is a place that feels like home to me.  I built its borders with river rocks, handpicked out of a big pile, leveled edge to edge, to create a meandering free form outline on the very back of my new home’s lot.  I turned the hard clay soil within these river rocks, then hand-screened, shovel-full by shovel-full, new soil to fill them up.  Then I turned the dirt again.

And as I planted my very first bare root peonies that fall, I also waged war on the weeds that had traveled to my new flower beds via the hand-screened dirt.  It was hard.  It was tedious.  But I knew in my heart that one day it would be a sunny spot for me, in more ways than one.

It’s my sunny spot all winter as I peruse my perennial plant catalogs, dreaming of all the possibilities that exist.  It’s my sunny spot in the spring as I watch what started as little seeds of hope last fall, curl a brand new leaf open to the sun.  It’s my sunny spot all summer as I relish in the fruits of my labor.  Flowers blooming, bees humming and beautiful energy rising from its colorful bursts, bouquets of fragrant blooms abound.  And it’s my sunny spot in the fall as I watch my hard working plants slowly cower down to rest, and I plant new seeds, tubers, rhizomes and roots of hope for next spring.

I’ve celebrated warm Friday evenings there with a beer in hand.  I’ve sat on its graveled path, crushed and broken, embraced by only coneflowers, bee balm and black-eyed susans.  Salty tears dripping onto the soil that gives these plants life.  I’ve smiled there and I’ve cried there.  But no matter the clouds in the sky, my little spot is always sunny.

Never underestimate the power of a sunny spot.

Those special places in our lives have the power to give us rest when beaten down. They have the energy to reinvigorate us, to help us rise up and conquer those obstacles we may have in front of us.

The also can have the calm presence to just encourage us forward, slowly, quietly and subtly.  Giving us a gentle hand on our shoulder to let us know we can do it, that life doesn’t always require us to fight with a roar, but maybe to just have the courage to continue on again tomorrow.

Searching for Signs of Life

It started with the red wine shoots of peonies, pushing up with Goliath-like strength from below the ground.  Raising whole areas of dirt above them as if doing push ups with the Earth itself.

It was this sudden appearance which led to my daily policing of the walkways through my flower garden.  Scouring, searching for signs of life.  I patrolled carefully and slowly, looking for any hint of green newness sprouting amid the dirt.

Have you ever sought one thing in life, and when looking closer, found something much different?  Sometimes the things we think we are looking for are simply the crumbs along the path leading us to discover things that we could have never expected.

I found my Raspberry Wine Monarda had been growing over the winter, with a much larger footprint in my garden than last summer.  I found myself feeling excited, then worried with its aggression, and thankful I had picked a fairly large area to plant it just a year and a half ago.  If I’m not careful, I may find myself with a flower garden consisting of only bee balm!

A humble daffodil stem suddenly pregnant with the swelling of a flower bud within one of its green leaves.  Then another appeared, then another.  I couldn’t wait for the birth of their yellow, double-ruffled offspring, their due dates surely just days away.

Spikes of purple Siberian iris leaves jut out in a large clump in the middle of my garden. Their sharp-shaped leaves cutting a bold silhouette against the blue spring sky.

Clumps of salvia began stretching their new leaves upward.  Beautiful, new zig-zag edged leaves as if cut out carefully with a pair of pinking shears.  I dreamed of the deep purple depth they add to my garden, their tall spires luring bees nearly all summer.

Like fluffy marshmallows halfway buried within the dirt, I spied the very tops of my Asiatic lilies pushing their air-puffed way out into the sunshine.

Max found my catmint clump sprouting new leaves and without restraint he began rolling, biting, sniffing and scratching at the plant’s brand new growth.  Such is the curious attraction between kitties and catmint.  Without the full dose he’s able to ingest and inhale during the summer months, the new sprouts didn’t sedate him into a sleepy, curled nap.  We’ll save those catmint induced naps for summer’s sluggish afternoons.

Even within the dense remains of last summer’s stems, I saw a brand new green curl of an Echinacea leaf squeezing forth.  I was already dreaming of their happy, summer blooms swaying in my garden with bees humming around them busily.

Around a corner I even saw buds on my Ash Leaf spirea bush.  Sharp, red-edged green leaves uncurling slowly upon branches still grey with winter.

That initial sighting of my first peony pushing up out of the dirt prompted a full-scale search for other signs of life within my garden.  Searching and expecting to find some things, and instead stumbling upon other discoveries seems such a fitting metaphor for the week ahead.  As we begin the final week leading up to glorious Easter, what have you found yourself searching for?

After Jesus’ death upon the cross, followers probably thought the search was over.  Despite taunts from the crowd, there was no visible miraculous rescue from his torturous death upon the cross, no angels swooping him up and into the heavens for all to witness, no ground breaking rumble of thunder to shake him free of the stakes piercing his hands and ankles.  It was all over. Nothing more to hope for.  Even Christ himself cried to God:

  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”      Mark 15:34

However, Mary and Mary Magdalene quietly sought out His fateful tomb three days later to prepare and anoint His body respectfully.  As they must have timidly approached the tomb that morning, with the sun still low and pink the sky, they were expecting to find a tomb blocked by a rock, shrouding the death of their beloved within.  They must have wondered, impossibly, how they would move that giant rock away.

But where they were expecting death, they instead found life.  In the form of a rock moved away, an empty tomb and a risen Christ, they found life that would be everlasting.

So during the upcoming week, may you seek and find new life.  An everlasting life through Christ, who died so that we might be forgiven.  Sacrificed so that we might be saved.  Betrayed, punished, beaten, humiliated, spat upon, taunted, cursed and crowned with thorns so that we might live eternally.  May this week inspire you to seek and find, to hope and believe that life continues, even when it may seem to have ended.

And just like in my little flower garden, may you search and be happily amazed at the life growing both around you and within you.  And may the hope of things to come, ever inspire you to continue seeking, for your reward lies in faith that there is life beyond this earthly garden.

 

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Cor. 4:17-18

Shadows in the Garden

Weeds.  Their creeping tendrils surfaced with the snow’s fast melt recently.  They are still there, making faces and sticking their tongues out at me, laughing at my theory that winter would kill them.

I was hoping to spare myself of a little weeding work at the end of the last growing season, relying on a cold, hard winter to do the work for me.  While I was busy watching my crocus’ sprout and bloom over the past couple of weeks, I had been ignoring the other things that were growing in my garden.  The bad weeds that I had neglected to pull last fall, had suddenly turned green and seemed to have doubled in size with the past week’s warm days.

No, not a weed! This is one of my favorites: Coreopsis (Tickseed) "Jethro Tull" -- is abloom all summer with these beautiful, fluted, sunny yellow petals.

It became obvious that, while my perennials are slowly growing and expanding their rooted footholds all winter . . . so are the weeds that escaped pulling in the fall.  The good plants relished in a little downtime to extend their reach in my gardens, but so did the bad.   Why is it we can’t have one without the other?  The good without the bad?  The bright and beautiful without the dark and threatening?

I sometimes wonder whether we can fully appreciate the “good” in the world without being witness to the bad.  Do we need the bad as a sort of litmus test for what is truly good and how good it can be in comparison?

We live in a world where comparison has become the staple of our social lives. Facebook has risen as a harbinger of outdoing one another.  It has become a platform to showcase families that are more perfect than imaginable, children that are smarter and wittier than others and friends that are truer, closer, funnier and more exciting than could have been expected.  Even the pets flitter precariously close to what can only be deemed pooch perfection.  It becomes a soapbox of perfection.  A sprint that we all had no idea we were in for when we first signed up for Facebook.

You know them.  They’re the ones that inadvertently make you feel your meager life is unworthy of even being accepted into the Facebook world.  The ones that make you feel you can surely never attain that level of perfection in family, friends, children and pets.  We all know them.

Life is construed as perfect, on all accounts.   But life is never perfect.  Just like in my little flower garden, the weeds will continue to sprout and grow if left untended.  Eventually, the bad could have the power to overtake my garden, strangling my flowers, squeezing the life out of them, taking over more and more of my garden.  So while we must take time to promote the good, to feed, water and sow them carefully, we must also take the time to fight the bad, with patience, stamina and continued vigilance.

As we work to grow our spiritual lives, isn’t the bad just outside, waiting for us to leave the door to our hearts unlocked for just a moment?  It sneaks in unnoticed, lurking in the dark corners of our minds, creeping along the walls of our hearts with the day’s shadows, waiting patiently.  We’ll never rid the shadows from our lives.  They will be there, waiting and watching for a chance to slip in, waiting for us to give in to their tempting for just a moment.

And just like the weeds that grew silently and unnoticed in my garden all winter, they will arise one day when we’re weakest, hoping to capitalize on the fertilizer, mulch and water we’ve provided for our cherished blooms.  The weeds will always be there.  We’ll pull them, and they’ll return. We’ll leave their roots upended to burn under the sun, but somehow another will spring up again quickly in its place.  They are a constant in my garden just like they will be a constant in life.

The good news is that we have control over the bad, all it takes is a little sweat, a few tools of the trade in our belt and the patient solace to understand that our “pulling” will never be done.  And when we come to understand that we are each destined for a lifetime of weeding, pulling and thwarting the bad, we can finally take joy in the everyday toil that results in a blooming garden of good.