You say Missouri
out West. Urban prairie bound,
I say Missourah.

Begin Anywhere

It starts early, this idea of a starting line, when we are children playing games or lining up for class.  There is an order and it begins with a specific place, a line on the ground, a boundary designating where to start.  You go to the line, but don’t step over it.  Stay behind it.  That is the right place to start.  And then you run the race or play the game or file into the room in an orderly fashion according to the rules of that activity.  As a child, you may have taken delight in the order and the certainty, knowing where to start and how to progress.  Or perhaps you felt the rebellious need to defy these seemingly arbitrary constructs.  Regardless of your response, chances are you were unaware of the blissful state of ignorance around a critical aspect of starting lines:  the idea that they will always be there.  Because sometime later, you will find yourself in a world with no clear starting line from which to begin.

You may just find yourself standing in the middle of a bunch of weeds in a strange place.

Weeds

No plans and no starting line.

Just weeds.

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Perhaps some people never feel this sense of disorientation.  But I doubt it.  I imagine it catches up with all of us eventually although it may take longer to reach some whose lives contain more of that clear linear order than others.  For myself, I believe the death of my mother around age 10 produced a permanent sense of being slightly disoriented, as though my inner compass suffered a wrenching twist that I have been painstakingly trying to repair ever since.  With order swept away by this loss, I can see and feel my halting starts and turns through life, still looking for that bright line of guidance. And finding it elusive and invisible.

Without a clear line from which to start, it becomes apparent that what you need is not the right place to start, but just a place to start if you want to move forward.  Any place.  It doesn’t matter.  Forget what you learned as a child, the starting line, the order of procession, the rules of the game.  Just begin anywhere.  Even if it is smack dab in the middle, the thickest part of the thick of it, the messiest or the most difficult.  Or take the path of least resistance, a place where you have a little wiggle room to grow and rest.  There is no place for judgement in this decision and perhaps even no long term goal.  It is just a beginning…and it can happen whenever and however you want.

I started under the poor butchered pear tree in the middle.  The ground around it was already mostly bear, so it would be easiest to clear.  It was good I started in an easy place, because the soil is full of clay and resistant to planting.  It  needed a lot of tilling and mulching before it was ready for plants, so I was glad to be able to focus on this rather than just digging up the crabgrass.  It is always good to have a bit of planting with all that clearing away, a little something to look forward to in the midst of a getting rid of what you don’t want.

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Sea of Lawn

“I showed that lawn tender feelings I should have saved for my family.”  Hank Hill (King of the Hill) lamenting the destruction of his lawn by moles.

Before we moved, I took pictures of every plant in my yard in Portland.

Not just pictures of the yard as a whole (although I have those too), but pictures of each individual plant.  Luckily it was still early spring so a significant number of perennials hadn’t emerged.  Otherwise I would have had easily two or three times the number of pictures.

I had always worked in the yard and “gardened” as such, and then in the last three years had become committed to the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program sponsored by the Audobon Society of Portland.  The program certified neighborhood yards meeting certain requirements of native plantings, stormwater management, and wildlife habitat (food, water, and shelter sources).   I had dug up the majority of the lawn on the property, planted well over 100 plants, and laid many yards of chip in paths and borders.  The yard was Gold certified by the time I left, and I counted over 40 different native species of plant between my front and back yard.  I had a bird bath and several feeders, a brush pile, a mason bee block, and bird roosting boxes.  Over 15 species of bird had been sighted in the yard and several species of bees.  It was right at the point where the majority of planting was done and everything was beginning to expand and fill in.  It had a beauty in both its appearance and its functionality.

Portland has a wide variety of yard-scapes, from simple lawn plus hedge,  to lush overgrown jungles full of hydrangea, rhododendron, wisteria and lilac, to dry landscapes of chip and decorative grasses.  My yard was a three year exercise in balance:  evergreen and color, sun and shade, thick hedgerow and open space, with all the canopy levels represented.  Lots of structure and a little wildness, it looked mostly planned with spots of spontaneity, personal yet appealing.  It was astounding how much habitat could be built into one urban yard.

The yard at my new house can be characterized by what I note appears to be a city-wide standard of appropriate landscaping:  lawn plus sculpted hedge.  A few trees included.  And the lawn description is generous.  The front yard I would describe as lawn plus dandelion farm plus hedge.  (I pulled enough dandelions to fill two large yard debris bags.)  The back yard is about six different invasive ground-covers that have been mowed to look like lawn, plus dandelions plus hedge.  (Oh, and there is that big patch of poison ivy that my husband found accidentally and much to his dismay.)

I am grateful in a way, that the back yard isn’t full of lush lawn.  Then I don’t have to feel bad about digging it up.  Its all just weed and not worth saving.  All I have to do is get to work.

Get to work…again.  Starting over from scratch.  New yard, new native plants to learn about, new plans…

I should be excited.  A blank canvas for me to fill in with my own vision.

Wait, should I be excited?  Because I’m not excited.  I mean, I am excited to research plants on the internet, join the Grow Native! movement, and go pick up stuff at the nursery,  But I am most definitely not in that sustained brimming with enthusiasm excitement that would power me up to wield a pick ax through clay soil to dig up scrub plants that are only suitable for a goat to eat.

It gets harder, you see, to start over.  Working with momentum is different that beginning from a full stop and slowly pushing your way forward. Motivating yourself to begin and not feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of the task.  Trying not to think about how long it took you the last time you undertook a project like this.  Before I moved I would watch people on House Hunters and other such shows complain about the paint color or the tile or the landscaping and I would think, “who cares? just change it when you get there”.  But now I understand:  it just takes so much mental effort to overcome the emotions that come with starting over or starting from scratch.  The worry you can’t do it, that  you don’t have it in you, that you are not enough, and that the first time you did it successfully, well, that was just a fluke.  The uncertainty keeps you static:  maybe you were just lucky before, maybe bad luck will befall you this time.

I know it is just the lawn…but I think Hank Hill understands.