White-tailed editors

I was delighted when my husband and sons built a wooden swing chair for the garden. They painted it moss green and butter yellow and placed it at the back end of the garden.  This spot only gets a few hours of sun, and I had never given it any attention, but now with the old-fashioned chair brightening the corner, I decided it was time to dream.

I studied neighbouring gardens, thumbed through catalogues, and imagined various scenarios. One day in August, I rolled up my sleeves, hoisted the shovel, and started dividing plants that had taken over elsewhere. After a dozen trips with the wheelbarrow, the triangle of earth came to life with waves of fuchsia and scarlet astilbe.  White fronds of goat’s beard waved behind shimmering heads of oat grass.  I set two wooden trellises along the path, at an angle that drew the eye toward the bench. It was a day of fiddling, sweating, playing, ruminating and plain old hard work. I admired the results for days. Even when it was raining, I stood on my oldest son’s bed and gazed out the window at the lovely space that had been transformed; enjoying the colors and textures like a lovely secret.

A few weeks later, on a crisp September day when the sky was bright blue, I headed out back.  I halted in my tracks. The whole back corner of the garden looked as if it had been hurled into the air by a giant hand.  The astilbe had been uprooted and tossed willy-nilly.  The trellises had been crushed to bits and flung like matchsticks into the columbines, ferns and meadow rue. Two deer sauntered across the road. They must have gotten their antlers caught in the trellises and panicked in an effort to break free, flinging the structures until they shattered, destroying everything in their path.

I was furious. For days I refused to take my daily walk through. No deadheading, no tally of which dahlias were beginning to bloom where, no breathing in the scent of warm earth and the last of the basil roasting in the sun.

I decided I wasn’t going to plant anything there ever again. I would leave it and let the knapweed take over. What choice did I have if everything I tried was going to be demolished? One rainy day, I wandered aimlessly through Home Depot and found myself in front of shelves of ornamental grasses drastically marked down in price.  My imagination started picturing that back corner filled with their plumes. But, I asked myself, why bother with all that hard work if it was only going to be a waste of time?

The disappointment over the garden was identical to the despair that comes when I get a rejection letter after sending out a novel.  All my hard work, and the satisfaction I had experienced upon completing the book, all my secret admiration of how I had executed my ideas and brought them to life, are destroyed by one sheet of paper, a few short paragraphs. An editor’s comments can have the power to toss my words into the air and smash them to bits. Yet I know from experience that, if I’m lucky, there is a nugget of truth in that letter, some comment or observation an editor makes that will get the wheels turning and spark the novel back to life. Soon I’m writing again, seeing a character, a scene, a plot element in a new way with renewed hope and satisfaction. The vision returns tweaked and resurrected.  Once in a while I can even look back and reflect that the smashing, the flattening, the momentary disappearance of my creative vision was a good thing. I had to start over. I had to approach it with fresh eyes.

I hunted down a shopping cart.  I filled it with Japanese Silver grass, blushing Huron Sunrise and frothy mounds of Mexican feather grass. Will it remain untouched to thrive in that back corner after I’ve transplanted it?  I wish.  Luckily, for me, happiness comes with the fiddling, the sweating, the playing and ruminating and, yes, plain old hard work.



Coming soon Let The Shadows Fall Behind You from Kunati Books! 


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