Thursday, May 21, 2009


Mark, that great stabilizing and equalizing force in my life, the most consistent, calming and confirming husband a woman could dream of, takes a lot of pictures of plants. He can take 20 pictures of the same plant with different apertures, light, focus, until he gets what he wants. He rarely deletes what he doesn't want, however, leaving me with a folder labeled May 2009, insert-your-favorite-nature-spot-here and 53 pictures of the same bleeping Solomon seal from 9 angles.

At least it's digital, right? Before it used to be box after $20 box of prints. But when I look under May 2009 to find pictures of the defining moment of the month, I see file folders of how Mark has spent his lunch hour and early weekend morning bike rides - Arie Crown, Braidwood Savana, I&M Canal, Maple Lake, O'Hara Woods, Ted Stone, Warrenville Grove and West DuPage Woods. There is a folder for Mother's Day and a smattering of dumped, un-foldered photos that I took of my Roots&Shoots group and science lab. But not one picture of the mostly dead tree. Or the plants we are moving underneath it.

Not one shot of a wild geranium or bellflower lovingly transplanted from the woods around my childhood home when my parents moved 12 years ago. Instead, I found this fallen no swimming sign, which I hope is a signal of the future of our backyard now that the rain garden is in. We moved many a wild geranium, hyacinth and bellflower in the past week. I'm feverishly painting one wall of the garage in order to move the scorned and despised non-native hostas and ferns to the only shady place left in our yard. All the native stuff we can salvage has been moved and transplanted to other areas of the yard, but it looks dreadful. And I've spread nearly 2 cubic yards of mulch to protect what we've put in.

I just hope the apricot's enormous stump is ground down soon. That's one image I'd like to be rid of. And once the sanctioned and native Hill's Oak we plant nearby is in the ground, I'll believe our life is moving forward. It's the limbo I can't stand.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Sad Day

We are about to lose our tree. This tree is what sold me on the house, it was so magnificent and beautiful 14 years ago.

It was an overgrown apricot that never produced much fruit. The fruit it did produce was so high and so small that it was just weaponry for the squirrels to lob at us when we spent too much time in their space. The tree shaded the whole back deck, half the yard and much of the house. I used to leave Large and Small on the deck in their sandbox in the comfort of this tree while I went inside to do the dishes.

When we moved it, the tree was already cabled, holding it together in case of a storm. We've had it trimmed every year by the same company the previous owners used. The guy who comes out grew up taking care of this tree, he has admired it, held it together, trimmed it and has done all he can to keep it alive these past 5 or 6 years. Borers moved it and started killing the tree from the middle, there is no insecticide for this. Sap would come out in big globs as they did their work each summer, but we held out hope each year for just one more year.

As a fruit tree, it branched off into segments from one center point. My 80 year old neighbor, who has lived in the same house all her life, remembers that the original house owner chopped it down 50 years ago, only to have it grow back. This is a tree with staying power! The segments branched out over the deck, over my neighbors' driveway, over the addition to our house and over the back yard. The section over the neighbors driveway was the first to go, painfully cut off when nothing grew or bloomed on it. Then came parts of the sections over the back end of the house and the deck. Now the only live portions, which bloomed as beautifully as the picture taken four years ago, are the ones over the yard. These are straining against the cables, leaning on the power line. The dead portions are poised over the roof of the house. It's no longer an option to just nip off the dead bits and hope for another year. We've had our last year.

Part of the mourning of this tree is the digging up of the native (and some rare) wildflowers we planted underneath. Unfortunately, Chicago still thinks it is Bombay and we are in the midst of another monsoon.

Each time the tree was trimmed, it left a little hole in the canopy and took a while to grow back in. It was sad each year. These past few years have been like body part amputations, but we grew used to the new shape and hoped for the best. Now we will have an entirely new space in our lives, as unfamiliar and it will be unwanted.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Could it be?

I am hopeful, really hopeful, that we are done with winter now. Our last frost date here is May 15, but the long range forecasts look pretty good. We did a major spruce up of our outdoors last weekend and have an inviting front porch set up right now.

I like to sit in the rocker and knit. The kids like to sit on the swing or the Adirondack chairs to read. With the birds and the gardens coming in, it's hard to concentrate on much other than the life around us.

This time of year, I have a recurring dream of owning a little place, a hobby farm, out in the middle of nowhere. In my dream we practice sustainable living, no one ever complains about the work and we are happy all the time. After this past weekend of cleaning, painting and putting in a 64 plant rain garden, I should know better. Dreams don't know better.