Several weeks ago, a photo appeared on my personal Facebook newsfeed — and I’ve been captivated (obsessed) ever since.
This is a baby staghorn fern. I came across it recently while doing some therapeutic weeding — therapeutic for me, not so much for the weeds. I was actually surprised to see it because the closest mature staghorn is in the across-the-street neighbor’s backyard.
Plus, it was clinging to stone. In the wild, these tropical epiphyte ferns use their roots to grab tightly onto the bark of a tree while its fronds take in the needed moisture and nutrients. This little guy, though, was holding onto the rough, hard surface of a paver used as a retaining wall for a raised bed.
The more I considered its journey from a spore drifting on wind currents to its determination to hold onto something — anything — solid, the more I realized that this was the best way to illustrate my absence for the past few months.
Without going into detail, the bulk of 2020 saw Joe, myself, and his family protecting ourselves from COVID while also caring for the health of his father. Dad was diagnosed in May with malignant melanoma.
In a normal world, life is a rollercoaster. COVID, though, seemed to stifle and slow many of the ups while adding speed and dangerous curves to the downs. By the end of 2020 and into 2021, Dad needed round-the-clock care. On February 3, he passed away as a result of his weakened state, which itself was the result of two surgeries and general anesthesia that seemed to exacerbate his Alzheimer’s.
Since then, Joe and I have worked at catching up on chores long neglected: AC maintenance, plumbing issues, tree removal and shrub pruning, and that therapeutic weeding.
Through it all, though, we’ve reflected on Dad. He was many things to so many people. He was a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, uncle and friend, and coach, referee, umpire, and mentor. To me, he was my father-in-law, a kind, decent, honest, and gentle man who lived life to its fullest. He’s also the man who instilled these same values in Joe, my husband and partner.
I admit that while some days have felt almost normal, other days have been, well, a daze. It was on one such day that I looked up and spotted an orchid blooming way up high on the trunk of a sabal palm, one that I had tied to the tree before I knew anything about how to do that.
At the time, I was told to wait for the flower spike to finish and to just tie it. Climbing a ladder, I slapped the clump of roots — no additional sphagnum moss, no coco-fiber lining to keep things together, no nothing — and sloppily wrapped green floral tape around the orchid and palm trunk, hoping for the best.
It has never bloomed, not once, since I tied it up there. Some years, it looked as if it was barely alive.
This year, though . . . this year it’s flowering, its roots firmly attached to the trunk. It gave me a reason to get the ladder and climb up to get a closer photo of this miracle on a tree trunk, a reminder that we’re all holding on and we’re all going to be okay.
I mowed the lawn today.
I realize that may not sound extraordinary — but these days, the most ordinary thing can truly be something extraordinary.
The only way I can really explain summer in Florida is that it’s a lot like winter up north. There, the cold weather means the garden slows down. Here, the hot weather means I slow down. There are some days, many days when it’s just too hot to move.
It’s difficult to believe that it’s the first day of winter, WordPress has added snow, the holidays are upon us, and 2017 is coming to an end. For many, this time of year is an opportunity to look back and reflect.
My day of reflection, though, happened on December 12, the 20th anniversary of my car accident.
So much has changed since a September morning in 2001 — and now we have a generation for whom September 11 is ancient history. To keep the emotions and meanings of that day alive, we need to talk about it, to reflect, to learn — and to remember.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I’d like to revisit a post from a few years ago when One World Trade Center and the Memorial were still under construction — a post about a birthday, a parent and child, a friend, and a tree that reminds us we are all survivors.
This post should have been posted weeks ago. My initial plan was to list it as a Wordless Wednesday piece featuring before and after photos of my Florida garden, courtesy of Google maps.
But as I often do for a Wordless Wednesday post, I like to add a few words — only this time, the words were making a wordless post a bit wordier. So Wednesdays came and went, and as I stared at the two photos — the before and after of a landscape — I thought of my own before and after.
Like many of you, I’ve been thinking of Belgium, the residents of Brussels, and those who were struck down by violence.
And it’s during these moments when I want to stay in my garden, to bury my hands in soil, to tend to chores, to think, to make sense out of something senseless, to contemplate. I think that’s a big reason why Margaret Atwood’s quote from The Handmaid’s Tale resonates with me.
Where would we be without flowers?
So into the garden I went . . .
I thought of this small souvenir from Brussels. It belonged to my grandmother for as long as I can remember, one of the tchotchkes on the dresser in my great-grandmother’s bedroom — an odd little metal statue of a small boy urinating.
This is Manneken Pis.
The legend, according to my grandmother, involved a young prince who had gone missing. His father, the king, swore that if his son were found, he would build a statue to commemorate the moment of his discovery. And this is how the boy was found.
As a small boy myself, I probably giggled at the story — but that was the story my grandmother told and she was sticking to it.
After the death of my great-grandmother, the small statue stayed where it had always been, on her dresser in her bedroom. When my grandmother sold her house in Queens, NY, and moved to Long Island, Manneken Pis came with her. And after her death, I placed it in a cabinet in my home. It’s now with me in Florida.
When Joe and I visited Brussels about 20 years ago, I was determined to meet the statue with whom I had grown up. On a rainy evening, we found him — a small statue in a tight corner of some twisting streets, still urinating after all these years. (The umbrella is for the rain — not any other spray!)
Although there are many legends surrounding the real statue, one thing is for certain: it’s synonymous not only with Brussels, but with all of Belgium. The real statue is dressed up for various events and has hundreds of outfits — and in recent days, the small boy has helped rally the Belgian people together, his steady stream an indicator of how they feel about terrorism. You can learn more on the CNN website.
According to my father, the souvenir first arrived in my grandmother’s house in the mid- to late-1940s, a gift from two people who’s story is as legendary as that of the statue itself.
During World War II, my grandfather’s cousin was stationed in Belgium, a cook in the kitchen of a US army unit. While there, a young, attractive Belgian woman helped him. They spoke — she told him of her family and their experiences while under Nazi control and of how they were managing as the war rolled to an end. He would pass along food to her so she could feed her family.
Love bloomed in the most hardscrabble of soils. They eventually married, and he brought her to the United States, where they made a life for themselves and raised a family.
As I puttered about the yard, weeding and pruning, it occurred to me: gardening can be hard work. Being human can be hard work. Finding the best of times in the worst of times can be hard work.
No matter if it’s an actual garden, a relationship, a community, a nation, a world — there is always work to be done. Seeds need to be sown, plants need our constant attention, and soil needs to be improved.
I know it’s easier said than done, but as gardeners, we must. As human beings, we must. If we don’t, we’ll have a world without flowers . . .
And where would we be without flowers?
Speaking of flowers, where would Belgium be without them?
This is a postcard that I purchased while traveling through Belgium all those years ago. It’s an image of the Flower Carpet of Brussels. Every two years, 100 volunteers spend four hours creating the carpet, using thousands and thousands of Begonia Tuberosa Grandiflora.
As chance would have it, the next carpet will be on display this August 12 to 15th — and after recent events, I’m sure the Belgian people will make it all the more special.
When I look at a garden — any garden — I find myself looking at it from two perspectives.
These days, I find that I need a garden more than ever. It’s the one place that makes sense to me on days that no longer make sense. It’s the one place where I can find comfort on those days when I’m overwhelmingly sad — and these are those days.
Paris. Mali. Beirut. Kenya. Syria. A barren stretch of the Egyptian desert.
These days, there is so much sadness — and I find myself wondering: what is it with humans? I mean, I understand my plants, but I really don’t get people.