What It Means to be Home: A Love Letter to the House I am Leaving
The late afternoon sun glanced through my Western neighbor’s trees as I walked slowly along my short garden walkway, my hands moving softly through the young aspens leaping out of the soil.
One volunteer (they are all part of the same organism) was thriving after I had jerry-rigged a metal support to keep it upright by tying it to a large sister tree. Doing just fine, thanks. I will have to remember to take that metal off before the trunk grows right into it.
Hi guys, I said softly. The tall daisies waved in the breeze. One lavender bush that I had planted last year had, in the month I’d been gone, exploded in sprays of fragrant blooms. Doing fine, thanks, she said.
Lots of new aspens. The yard was beautiful. Green, dense, almost tropical in places. Not the lawn, which is scorched by days of triple heat. Not much you can do about that. But the flowers? Shaded by so many aspens, they flourished. Lilies. Blooms for which I have no names. Planted by the previous owners who had ten green thumbs. All perennials, god bless their generous souls, so that all I have to do is clean out what dies and make room for more.
Lots of new plants didn’t make it this year. Two pots next to the front door are full of dirt. In front of them, the ice plants and succulents, which apparently I shouldn’t have planted in pots, are exuberantly blooming and expanding.
Doing fine, thanks, they said.
I am going to miss this garden.
Christ, I am going to miss this. Medium peep Ann Litts recently shared that what she misses most from having moved south from New York is her garden. I am going to relate, as I plan to sell and move in spring of next year. Right about the time everyone (they are people, not plants, thank you, real gardeners understand, and I am no gardener) is heading up for sunshine, I plan to head northwest to the mountains.
If I am supremely fortunate, I might find another landscaped yard. Tended to by an older couple who knew a shitload more about gardens than I do, but who would love to sell to someone who will continue to love their babies and do her best to keep them thriving.
I lost a lot of my plants to travel, disregard and ignorance. Last year, I invested. After 13 years at this house, the first place I have in all my 66 years spent that much time in a home, I put the time in my garden.
In the back, my enormous blue spruce acts as shade for a small family of deer. When I walked under it to clean out a pernicious weed that tends to overwhelm my yard, upended earth proved that they had visited during my month-long absence in Canada this summer. I put water into the bird bath, knowing that the deer would drink it. Instantly the local bird population gathered on its edges. The local hawks do, too, as they hunt our generous rabbit community. Those guys have dug multiple holes in my yard.
Don’t mind. I like it that they’re here. Their presence means healthy hawks.
My yard is as close to nature as you can get. Fully a third of the yard is heavily treed, covered with ivy, and left to its own. It’s absolutely gorgeous. My northern neighbor (known to all of us as That Asshole Jerry) was so annoyed that my pines had grown over into his yard that he reached over into my yard and sawed off the offending branch.
That’s illegal in Colorado. He also throws pine cones back into my yard. That’s also illegal in Colorado. He also blows the ash leaves that fall from my tree onto his driveway back into my yard. That’s also illegal in Colorado. He does this when I am traveling.
You wonder why we call him That Asshole Jerry. Your dog barks once, he calls animal control. You wonder why I want to move away. He moved in after a beloved couple moved out. Can’t control that. I can move, but by moving, I lose my beloved garden. The yard whose soft, cool shade on the south side, supported by explosive overgrowth, (I don’t prune for this reason, it keeps things cool) makes a sweet getaway when things get hot.
Curling vines from that exuberant growth have this year found their way onto the east side of the house, creeping beneath my canopy and curving around the birdhouses hanging there. I love that. I fucking love that.
I have even begun to love the business of making my way through all that growth to dig out wild onions which take up root space when my poppies are trying to expand. They stink, but the poppies respond with enthusiasm. To wit:
The recent trip to the Canadian wilderness decided me. It was really hard, too, because in so many ways I dearly love my house. However, as I have noticed, I have started to hide in here. Not only is that not good for my health, it’s not good for my mental health. While I have a gym, which I use, a stationary bike and even have an elliptical coming in tomorrow afternoon, no amount of regular exercise- and I get plenty- will make up for getting out and getting engaged. I do that on my trips, but not here in Denver. Part of the reason is that the air and traffic are now so bad that when I am on Interstate 70 trying to get home from the VA Hospital at 2 pm, I am in a massive jam. Two in the afternoon. Try breathing that in.
I’m done here. I’ve given this place my entire adult life, 47 years. Time to go.
My garden allows me to dig into the soil, which is monumentally good for my health. The microbes are good for me (you should have seen how dirty my hands got in Canada, and yes I ate with my fingers using those hands).
Gardening is good for the soul. Too bad I can’t date my good-natured daisies, which have just peaked. Almost time to clip them out and make room for the next wave. The lilies are also peaking.
I am beyond grateful to the folks who lived here for years, Forest Service landscapers, who created a garden that loved me back when I finally figured out that my commitment was necessary to having it flourish. My garden’s comeback from the brink of disaster is the same arc of my departure from a monumentally awful relationship. Gardens heal, like horses, like dogs, like all of nature. We really have lost so much of that understanding. I am on a path heading back to Nature, and away from civilization. A slightly wild garden has helped.
Now it’s flourishing. Right about the time I am getting ready to hand my home to someone else.
Someone who, I dearly hope, will continue to invite the deer to dine on the back yard, drink from the bird bath and luxuriate in the sweet shade of very old trees. A forest microsystem, when most are gone around here. That Asshole Jerry last year tore out his entire back yard and installed a tightly controlled one (which reflects who he is) and put rocks, with a fence around them, out front. He’s fenced in his rocks, as though someone on the street wants to steal them.
At least he gives me my pine cones back.
I need to head to the forest. I have perhaps three decades left, maybe more. I want to live where there are more deer than people, more trees than condos, more paths than highways. That’s largely gone here in Colorado. After a month in some of the deepest wilderness left to the planet, I got called home.
My home is wild.
After getting home, I began driving with the windows open (as long as it wasn’t triple-digit weather). Leaving my house windows open. Wanting to feel the real air, the temperature, smell the earth and the air. Thanks, not pollution. Hear the storms and breezes and birds. While I badly miss the sweet patter of rain on my tent fly, I likely won’t set my tent up in my yard (although I damned near have, summer’s not over yet). At the very least that will give That Asshole Jerry cause to wonder what the fuck I’m up to.
Good. Maybe he will leave my goddamned trees alone. They are my family.
I don’t turn on the radio as I drive. I forgot how badly I had missed the sounds and smells of nature, changes in temperature, and how those cues talk to me the same way my aspens and daisies do. I am a farm girl. Those are my roots.
Home for me is forest. Green. Rushing waters, if I can find a home near any without paying exorbitant fees for flood insurance. Deep nature. It’s out there, and I will have to search. Likely I will need to trade Denver’s lovely mild winter for a harsher one. It will find me, not the other way around.
As I write this as it approaches 6 am here in Denver, the orange sun rises behind the dense silhouette of my beloved blue spruce. Out front, some twenty new aspens have leapt up, eventually providing a thick wall of green privacy for the coming owners. I hope they never cut them down. That’s up to them. Depends on whether they are city folk who don’t understand green, like That Asshole Jerry, who likes growing rocks in his front yard. Which collect and radiate heat.
We are swiftly ripping down our wild at the very time we most desperately need it. What time I have left, I plan to spend in, around, and surrounded by as much of it as I can, for I grew up that way. What troubles me is that those who want to live in it today bring their New York and Cincinnati and San Diego with them, and all the city sensibilities that have no business in the back country. And get pissed when grizzlies and black bears, drawn naturally to the thousands of calories presented by outside bird feeders, rip out their garbage, eat their city dogs that they leave outside to fend for themselves, and then get pissed off at nature for being who she is. Then someone gets bitten, and the bear dies. Not the bear’s fault. Ours. For not having a bit of sense about birds, because during summer, when bears are actively seeking calories for their fat supply during hibernation, birds have plenty of food.
But that’s Nature, who is far smarter than we are.
Home is where Nature is. In all her wildness. I’m headed back. I’d much rather deal with a bear than with my northern neighbor.