Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Pinch. Snip. Snap. Severed, spent flowers drop into the compost bucket like guillotined heads into a basket. I pretend they are my bad habits, bad temper, bad hair. If only it was so easy.
In the dusk of my life, I’ve arrived at a garden plan that puts my cutting herbs on my deck. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, basil, tarragon and oregano, plus a scattering of spring onions, live in four large planters on coasters and one stationary, soil-filled horse watering trough. Mixed through all the pots are flowers. First come the early season, self-seeding volunteer annuals like violas and little native poppies, then later the verbenas, petunias, calendulas, marigolds and other hummingbird and insect-attracting annuals available every spring from the local greenhouse.
In the twilight of a summer’s day, I go out on my deck to groom the herb garden. I’ve already put in some cool morning hours working the four long beds in the vegetable garden that supplies most of our meals, either fresh, from the root cellar, in the jars I can or the bags I freeze. Growing your own food was basic to the “Back to the Land” movement in the counterculture of the early 1970s, and the husband I were basic back to the landers.
A life lived close to nature offered the only real promise of inner peace in a war-centered world. So we moved from suburbia to the backwoods of rural America. Our generation was going to change the world through flower power and eating low on the food chain -- low as in on your knees cultivating vegetables and those powerful flowers.
Forty-some years later, going “Back to the Land” has taken on a darker meaning. The flower power that once seemed so gentle has revealed itself as the relentless force pushing up daisies in Nature’s perennial garden. For years I’ve called myself an aging hippie, but what looks back at me in the mirror is an aged hippie with liver spots. It’s the “hippie” part that matters, I tell myself: peace, love, and folk rock and roll.
Growing old happens to everyone who lives long enough, although I did think it would take a lot longer than it actually has. No one ever seems quite ready for it, despite its universality. It’s while I’m deadheading on the deck at dusk, in our tiny clearing in the midst of forest, that I muse over old ideals and measure how far I still have to go.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell a flower that’s done from a young unopened bud, and I end up plucking off promises for the future. Sometimes when I go away, the flowers go to seed and even clipping every deadhead doesn’t bring back any blooms.
No matter. I pour time like water onto the plants, moving my fingers tenderly through them, giving and drawing nurture. Every decision I’ve made, every path I’ve chosen, has led me here, to these plants on this deck on this dwindling summer day. Light slowly fades and cool air flows down the mountain. Everything around me is beautiful, perfect, even the dead leaves and withered flowers I pick off the plants, because they are a part of the endless, sacred cycle.
Deadheading has become a ritual of mindful mindlessness. Here is where I realize what I already knew, what I’ve learned from all these decades but could not find through conscious searching. Here is where I contemplate, not just what a long, strange trip it’s been, but how grateful I am to have arrived, even with a bad hip.

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