I’m grateful this time of year for lilacs, for their various colors, their feeding of bees, their intoxicating scent. Some years I can smell them from the other side of the house in late afternoon. Not this year, tough, their blooms are sparse. Maybe the buds froze in the last frost, or maybe the pre-buds were damaged by The Big Freeze last fall, the one that killed the almond tree, and it looks like the peach tree may not make it, either. Grateful that the lilacs survived! I make a point to walk that side of the house several times a day even when I don’t need to, just so I can stop and inhale deeply of the flowers: my head tingles from the inside, like a jump into Suzi’s pond invigorates the skin. I feel cleansed breathing lilac air.
I’m grateful to have gotten phone service back today after more than a week without; and to get a call from dermatology that it was a basal cell and it’s all gone; and to have had stamina and strength to start playing with a rough draft of the rock garden; and for the first iris to bloom, and the last tulips, and the first lilacs, and for the Fuji apple blossoms. I’m grateful that Stellar was happy today: happy to eat, happy to walk, happy to nap, happy just to hang out with me all day.
It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Weobegone — wait, no! It’s been a challenging month here at Mirador. Lots of life happening hard and fast, life including death, of course. Without the garden, exquisite pollinators, and five years of serious mindfulness practice under my belt, the weeks since Raven’s death would have been even more tumultuous.
What with Raven dying, auntie’s stroke, Michael’s imminent demise, another friend in major-medical limbo, Stellar on his last legs… the cherry tree dying, the phoebe nest knocked down and chicks devoured… the little and the big, all against the national backdrop of socio-political upheaval (and hopefully, awakening), and the slow-moving catastrophe of climate chaos; it’s been like log-rolling in a swift river, but I’m no longer a beginner: I’ve stayed afloat, dancing on the rolling crashing logs, keeping my balance. That takes practice.
Each spring, time with lilacs becomes more precious. Each year, time on earth becomes more precious. Various plants in the garden command their share of my attention during their unique brief windows, and my devotions keep pace as well as I can. A hidden blessing during this Time of the Virus for me has been more time, more time, what most people ask for on their deathbeds. More time than ever before with the lifegiving lilacs.
Suffering keeps going deeper, taking a turn you hadn’t anticipated. How does anyone ever think It can’t happen to me? The more I learn of what can happen, the limitless, infinite array of possibilities that might occur in any moment of any day, that expanding cone of possibility that flows outward, infinitely, from every individual sentient being based on the sum total of conditions present within and without that individual in that precise and only moment, the more gratitude I cherish for each and every moment of my life that holds beauty and serenity.
The first of these exotic (read invasive) birds arrived in Colorado in the mid-nineties, and twenty years later they now inhabit all 64 counties, with a recent Christmas Bird Count total of almost 20,000 individuals. Purist birders despair, hunters revel, and me, I just think about how fast our world is changing, how many species are going extinct, how arbitrary some of our values are, and how glad I am to have any doves at all in my yard. I don’t feel as tolerant of invasive exotic plant species, however, like cheatgrass, whitetop, tumbleweed… that list goes on and on, and is the bane of any gardener’s existence.
May just may be the sweetest month here. Mountain bluebirds perch on fenceposts, swooping on grasshoppers; house finches nesting in the gutter over the front door fledge in the dead juniper, and magpie babies squawk from their high nest north of the house. From inside yesterday I watched a fragile house wren flap its new wings like a butterfly, and got outside just in time to see the last one leave the nest in the adobe wall. Black-chinned hummingbirds court and feed in the yard. A large black and yellow bumblebee as big as my whole thumb circles the lilacs and leaves, a small fast hawk flaps and glides across the flat bright sky on this unusually cloudy humid day with no chance of rain.
It looks like I’ll have peaches and apples this year, as those trees transition from bloom to fruit. The mingled scents of newly flowering trees waft through the yard and into the house through open doors. I’ve stood with my face in the crabapple tree inhaling deeply, watching bees, who scatter if I exhale without turning my head away. Honeybees don’t like carbon dioxide, and who can blame them.
I can capture all the photographs and video and audio I could store and more, and never capture the scent of these flowering trees, this luscious pink crabapple, this effulgent lilac, or last month the almond tree at night. The fragrance seems to pulse, as though the trees themselves inhale and exhale at their own extended respiratory rate, slower than we notice, mostly. Certain times of days the bees will flock to one or another.
My bumblebee anxiety has dissolved even further this past week, with scores of them on Nepeta, Ajuga, and the mind-bending lilac, another tree that’s never been more full of flower and fragrance. I sit with it an hour a day all told this time of year if I can, breathing its cleansing, intoxicating scent. So moved by its power over me, I sought lilac essential oil online with mixed and disappointing results. Many sources say essential oil can’t be derived from lilac for various reasons, and there are many brands of lilac ‘fragrance’ oil for sale, but I did find a few sites with directions for infusing lilac flowers in oil or water.
So I’ve ordered a bottle of grapeseed oil, and trust the deep purple lilacs on the north side of the lilac patch will be in perfect bloom by the time it arrives. Meanwhile, I’ll make lilac scones again this weekend. Last year Chef Gabrielle and I candied lilac flowers, and that was a lot of work for a lovely but minuscule result. The lilac scones provided much more gratification for significantly less work. The lilac, by the way, is also a non-native species, though not aggressive enough to be considered a weed…
In other spring food news, I’m set for the next few weeks for my greens intake. I made a dandelion smoothie for breakfast the other day, with apple, flaxseed, nuts, yogurt, blueberries, and ginger root. Yum! There’s a nearly infinite supply of dandelions to share with the bees, and Biko the tortoise who relishes both flowers and leaves.
One thing Katrina taught me last year is that no matter how hard it is, it’s essential to cut back your flowers early so they’ll double and triple their blooms as they grow. It’s so hard to snip those little blips of color when you pot up the annuals, but trust me ~ trust Katrina ~ you’ll be glad you did.
“How many cats do you have?” asked Andy, the young Vietnamese man massaging my calf before polishing my toenails. He was looking at the various hairs on my pants. Deb treated me to a mani-pedi when I accompanied her to Montrose for a dentist appointment.
“Just one,” I said, “and two dogs.” I realized with a slight shock as we waited our turn and I observed the shining shins of the women already underway that I hadn’t shaved my legs since last summer. “All this,” I added, sweeping my hand up my calf, “is also hair from the cat, all stuck on my legs.” I shrieked as he cleaned one of my nails. “Baby guts,” said Deb. I doubt she’ll ever take me out for a spa day again.
“You want cheese grater?” he asked, and scraped and scraped at my calloused heels. “I’m a gardener,” I explained. “You want flower?” he said, after he’d painted my nails red. I have only had a few pedicures in my life, and never a professional manicure, and never ever painted flowers on my nails. “Sure,” I said. You can’t have too many flowers. A tiny work of art is what he did, with a drop of white polish, a toothpick, and a little bead.
With all I’ve had on my mind lately ~ this inexplicable dizziness, a new foot pain, the flush of lush spring weeds and bad grasses, and peer pressure to exterminate prairie dogs ~ this little indulgence brings a jolt of joy each time I look down in bare feet.
“Beauty is not optional. Art is not something peripheral, but literally a strategy for survival.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams