Sunday, April 19, 2015

Live There

Is your home a reflection of you or a reflection of what you believe you are supposed to be? Do you live in a large house that you secretly despise maintaining? Do you live amid a group of people who shape your behavior rather than living in a manner befitting you? Do you sometimes look at your life and not recognize yourself in it?

Dear Reader, I can tell you that I have answered 'yes' to all of those questions. While not all the points are easily changed, if change is what you indeed wish to make, small steps in a direction toward the real you are possible. I am not sure if it is a mid-life crisis or a mid-life realization that I am in the midst of, but I can tell you that changes have occurred in my thinking, and I like it.

A small example is in the yard around my house. After purchasing this house in 2002, I immediately began building flower beds and shrub beds across the entire property. A mere one-third acre, the lot still offered plenty of places to dig and create numerous planting beds which I quickly filled with my latest haul from the garden center. I exhausted myself on the project to make my yard look like every magazine page I had admired over my adult life.

What those magazines do not explain is what happens after the photographs are taken, when the weeds grow and plants must be pruned. Some of the favorite plants die because the neighbor's cat has other ideas for the look of your yard. The magazines do not explain that no matter how well you prepare the soil or place weed barriers, the proximity of your property to an adjacent cattle pasture will render your war against weeds fruitless. This is before the menagerie of nocturnal creatures dig and steal every bulb you ever planted and the grasshoppers eat the center out of your Pampas grass. The once lovely idea of a yard worthy of magazine photographs soon becomes a chore on par with cleaning that tiny crevice around the kitchen sink -- a necessary evil. 

Only after 12 years of this constant battle in my yard I realized: I don't like working in the yard that much. I just don't, never have. While I enjoy mowing, and I certainly enjoy looking at the flowers and shrubs, the ongoing upkeep -- especially on the scale I had created -- was sucking the life out of me. I began to detest the weekly 'to-do' list which stole more and more of my weekend time. Only last autumn did I have a revelation: take it all out. 

Diamond grass, clematis, and thread-leaf
coreopsis emerging for a second
season. The omnipresent weed-generating
cattle pasture is in the background.
After one long arduous weekend in the yard late last autumn, when I prepared the property for winter, I realized I no longer had to impress the neighbors with gardening skills. Nor did I have to impress my friends or try to hold myself to some standard created in a magazine. I boiled down my thoughts to what I truly wanted, what I truly felt I could handle without being overburdened. I like to mow, and a few containers of flowers on the patio would satiate my wish to see pretty plants. The deconstruction began. 

My yard is much more manageable this season than last, after the winter of removing that which no longer worked for me. Let's face it, it never worked for me. What I realized was that in all my years of building up this yard, in all my work to create what I saw in the photographs, I ignored two basic and insurmountable truths: living near a cow pasture will always mean more weeds since wind and birds will distribute the seeds, and I have a limit to how much yard work I like to do. Boom. When I ignored those truths, unhappiness crept in. 

I now have six containers on my patio, filled with small perennial shrubs and flowers. They are manageable. I can pull weeds in about three minutes, giving me oh-so-much-more time to enjoy them and far-better fits my attention span when it comes to weeding. The areas of former planting beds in the yard are now integrated with the lawn, and easily maintained with mowing duties that take one hour a week. Finally, I matched my desire to work in the yard with the level of required work in the yard, a balance too many years unmatched. 

What have I found in all this? Now that the yard is no longer burdensome, I want to spend more time in it, enjoying it, and tending to it. The light shroud of resentment toward it is gone. My yard is beautiful to me again, even though it has far fewer magazine-styled planting beds. It has finally become the peaceful refuge I looked for all those years when I thought that more plants equated to more happiness.

If you dream of living in a loft in the midst of a vibrant city,
with museums and cafes as close as friends,
then by all means, live there.

If you imagine a large house with lots of bedrooms,
with kids, and block parties, and a welcoming neighborhood,
then by all means live there.

If you dream of a little cottage in a quiet place 
surrounded by nature where thoughts have room to run,
then by all means, live there.
--Rita Herrmann, 2015

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