The faintest golden cast shimmered in the leaves as I drove home from the farmer’s market. No brilliant yellows yet – except for the acres of soy that, in just a week, have turned as bright as fields as sunflowers. But it’s there in the green – a hint of warmth that is more than just the glow of sunlight, a rasp of dryness that isn’t about rain. The trees are quieting the riotous hunger for light, to begin their most important work. Drawing into themselves all that’s been accomplished in one more year, and letting go.
Here we have apples from the commercial lot a mile up the road (it’s for sale), and grapes from the community garden, where the vines are so thick the clusters are still only half-ripened. And dahlias and sunflowers from the Hmong grandmother and her granddaughter in Fort Atkinson. Farmer Peggy’s flowers have finished, replaced with an abundance of russet Asian pears and creamy red Gala apples. All to be told with another picture on a different day, I hope.
And the willy-nilly cosmos that I can’t shut up about. The vase stamped Made in Japan, from the 50s or so. Brought together to make the very thing I never knew I wanted. Just like falling in love.
When friends ask, “But, how are you?” – emphasis on the “you” – I do feel a little stumped. Maybe it’s not a good sign that nothing much happens in my life. Maybe I should have more to tell. But really, I’m just so excited about making my bed and cleaning the sink everyday, and that’s not the kind of thing that qualifies as an answer when someone is sincerely inquiring about your well-being and happiness.
And you all know I am somewhere on the permanently blue side of the street. And the big things I think about – home and heartbreak and how I will continue to earn a living in my “golden” years – those things aren’t exactly happening, are they? Any report on my emotional terrain is bound to be a little morose. But that’s not exactly what you are asking either.
So it’s true when I answer, “I’m good. I just go to work and I spend the weekend on my flowers and make dinner.” Even on my vacation days, I managed to do mostly the same things I do on an average Saturday. Take a walk. Organize a drawer. Make the smallest purchase I can for something that might improve the house (this week it was an antenna for the TV).
I did not intentionally pursue the peace of the mundane. But I sure am enjoying it.
Well, the cosmo skyscrapers finally tumbled to earth this week. Weighted down with soggy spent blossoms, the rain-weakened stems tilted and sagged across each other like a mushy crop circle. I admit, I’m to blame. Creative neglect usually passes a point of no return – and I know this. I could have staked up the leaning mass of stems and flowers. (And I probably will this week while I’m staycating.) But honestly, they were so rambly-shambly already, I didn’t think things could get any worse. I didn’t realize further toppling was possible.
I spent a couple of hours cutting off the dead heads, and extracted a couple of the heaviest culprits, so the others could spring back a little more upright. The plants that remain will keep blooming until frost. They would probably straggle on after that, but we do a clean sweep at the end of October. There will be plenty of volunteers in the spring, I’m sure.
Now the nasturtiums can see the sun. The bachelor buttons that escaped by clinging to my neighbor’s chicken wire will have a chance to spread and maybe I’ll even be able to reach them with my clippers.
I mean, let’s be honest. I’ve already had more abundance than I ever imagined from these lighter-than-air pink and white confections. At least one specimen of every variety bloomed, despite my almost total incompetence.
I’ve learned my lesson. I’m going to get some of the peachy colored ones for next year.
Saturday morning I was back to my Fort Atkinson pilgrimage, driving east from Madison to see Farmer Peggy and buy some flowers – but also to watch our edge of the moraine roll into the morning sky. The silver mist from a cool night lingered in the soy bean oceans – and gold is sweeping the millions of spires of corn – surely millions – shivering with pollen and green.
And here now, the entire summer is in one place. My guilty apples, purloined from a tree behind the yoga studio. Rampant cosmos, hyacinth bean blossoms and geranium-red nasturtium from my patch at the community garden. From Peggy, the Queens of Summer – Lisianthus and Sunflower – surrounded with sparkles of goldenrod, garlic, coneflower and dill. And the eggshell in softest blue, hatched it’s summer wondering and grew into a life of a garden. I’m so thankful for all its surprises.
Saturday was a work day at my community garden plot – and so I was weeding at 8 am, instead of buying corn and flowers in Fort Atkinson. I pounced on the white asters from the only flower seller who showed up at the West Side Market by 7 am. All the other flowers here came from the garden. The cosmos and hyacinth beans I grew; the rudbeckia plants I weeded in the pollinator garden, and therefor earned a few of their lush, unruly stems.
The plots are full of towering tomatoes and thick rows of beans and everywhere the huge leaves of Curcubits (squashes) covering the ground by inches every day. One gardener cleared out her cauliflowers to make room for the rampaging pumpkin vines taking over her plot. Another was determined to organize the shed. A thankless task, but you know how that feels, don’t you? Sometimes you just want to organize things, and nothing else will do.
My cosmos are – well – massive shrubs. Hidden by the net of fern-like foliage, the main stems of a few plants criss cross each other on the ground, heavy with their own success and as thick around as small branches. Others have stretched and strived between these giants, and made their long-necked way toward the sun. I guess I should have thinned the seedlings out a little more (laughs and rolls eyes sarcastically).
But you know, any success in the garden still comes as a total surprise. I didn’t really think I’d have even one flower, never mind a mini-forest encroaching across the path and into the tomatoes next door. “Screw you and your low expectations,” say the Cosmos in their pink fairy-tale voices. “We came to grow. Get out of our way.”
We lined up for peaches and corn under cool, milky skies over the Fort Atkinson farmer’s market. Farmer Peggy and I agreed a little wistfully that the lisianthus have almost run their course, overtaken by sunflowers and other late-summer heroes. The overcast light lingered into today, clouds on the brink of rain that never gained enough momentum to actually fall. The house cooled off at last, welcoming every morsel of breeze that could find an open window.
I’m happy because I rearranged some furniture and washed the kitchen floor – and for dinner had the best tomatoes I’ve maybe ever eaten. Oh, and the corn, full of butter and salt. Think about that for a minute, why don’t ya?
I can’t rush anymore, towards whatever ambition was racing through me like fire through paper. Even the flowers take their time, making and unmaking, considering and consenting. Maybe I will find a picture, maybe I won’t. It’s only the pleasure I want now – the time spent seeing what happens. I don’t know if anyone else will ever see what I see.
Can you believe I get to cut and arrange flowers in a vase and take a picture of them – every week? How did I get so lucky?
The shapes of trees are so distinct in glaring summer sun – even at 7:30 am – I imagine I can see every leaf, no matter how far away, as I drive out to the farmer’s market.
This Saturday morning, though, the trees’ silhouettes melted in the moist August haze, shadowless layers of blackened green, linking the earth and the milky grey sky. Farther down the road, the soft bumps of brighter hills and groves rose like far away mountain ranges. The ditches are white with tangles of Queen Ann’s Lace, and bright purple asters are starting to shine. Summer in its flurry – but getting ready to hand off soon.
There’s corn this week, and the tomatoes are run amok. The dark red wash on the viburnum leaves and berries hints at autumn. Lisianthus keeps coming, in all her ruffles and gingerly folds. Why ever would you say “no?” to such a fun party girl? It rained too hard this morning for me to get into my community plot – but I know the cosmos are there, taking over everything.
On Friday the Thrift Gods, in their wisdom, ordained I should acquire exactly the right table cloth to make my dining room happy – along with sundry other requirements that have been eluding me, such as the Right Drinking Glasses and another tarnished silver Thing For Flowers.
But even more, They bestowed on me a cabinet of incomparable kitsch, decorated with plastic mother of pearl ladies and servants mingling in golden green hills painted on a perfectly black background. I have waited out lesser temptations for almost a year, too broke and disheartened to risk buying the wrong thing for my new home. I was hoping for The One – and my faith was rewarded with a Treasure. Oh, it is every bit as wonderful as you are imagining.
I drove out a little earlier on Saturday, and I was glad I did. The farmer’s market isn’t supposed to open until 8:30, but at 8:05, people had already lined up for Peggy’s flowers – buckets of lisianthus, sunflowers, viburnum, rudbeckia, snapdragons and even a few stems of sweet peas. Then Ann indulged me with every flower I could cut from her garden – phlox and mondarda and tiger lily – and I cooled off in the kitchen after, with talk about books and her visit from artist, Della Wells. (We are both Big Fan Girls.) I’m pretty sure I dreamed about lisianthus Saturday night, while they revived with long drinks of water in the dark, sweeping their petticoats up and up like belles at the Folies Bergere. Or maybe it was their dream. I can’t ever be sure who has the dream first – the flowers or me.
It’s already August and my friend pointed out the morning light is changing, almost imperceptibly. It hesitates just a few more moments, catching you awake while still in its golden phase – somehow a little poignant and still. Summer has turned its corner, and weight of the leaves and fruit She grew can move in only one direction now.
The sunset-orange waves of ditch lilies have passed, replaced by tall, sandy seed heads of grass, light as feathers and bowing in unison as the wind ruffles through. And everywhere the white caps of Queen Ann’s Lace – infinities of tiny flowers pulled to order along thin arches of tender stems, like so many flying buttresses.
I try to see all the greens – but we don’t have enough words for them. A carpet of deep, flat soy, a wall of thick, sharp corn – each following the dips and swells of the land. Woods gather along the horizon, with more species than I can name – but certainly there are ash and cottonwood, maple and oak, hickory and walnut.
And I cry while I’m driving, for the lonely Saturday morning, for the sliver of purpose I’m clinging to making this trip – all there is to shield me from the glare of my failures.
Because I can at least so deeply love this place and the ordinary magic of its summer sky covering over the greens. And I can go a little ways to find flowers I never would have had, brought to life by people I can know and thank. And this, despite everything can’t be denied – to see all the summer greens and watch the nodding dance of lace and grass and never wish to be anywhere else.
There’s so much summer right now. I thought I could fit it all in – but where is the Queen Ann’s Lace, the helianthus, the milkweed and ditch lily? The scarlet monarda, and the dry, hay-sweet yarrow – and the flirty, fluffy cosmo?
Here are zinnia and nasturtium, and cornflower and petunias and hard, immature grapes as opaque as jade. Echinacea and lisianthus, the Prairie Rose – who folds as many petals in her skirt as any spring ranunculus, buds curled high along her serpentine stem, and ready to unwind their treasure.
I don’t know if this is good looking, and I don’t really care. All the pleasure was in the doing. How lovely something can be in your own heart, never mind what others see.