Tag Archive | gardening

The Luxury of Late Summer Lassitude

Woman Reading by Richard Emil Miller

Woman Reading by Richard Emil Miller

For the past few days, I’ve had every intention of writing something meaningful about Labor Day, but I was too busy being lazy. I told myself I had every right to wallow in sloth over the holiday weekend, but it’s three days later and I’m still wallowing. As a long-retired senior citizen, I’ve earned the right to indolence. Doing nothing used to make me anxious and guilt-ridden, but the older I get, the more those negative emotions fade away.

More and more, I find deep contentment in simply being in the moment, and isn’t that what countless self-help gurus say is the ideal state of being? I’m especially happy outside in my garden. Lying on my chaise in dappled shade on a perfect late summer afternoon, reading a book and sipping Pinot Grigio, my dog and my cat lounging in close proximity – life doesn’t get much better than that. I can gaze at a shrub or a single flower for minutes on end. And occasionally I actually get a little gardening done.

Then there’s the lake a few hundred feet from my house. I can walk down the public-access boat ramp and wade right into the water. I’m a slow, lazy swimmer, and I love floating on my back soaking up the sun. Or if I’m feeling especially ambitious, I can take out my spiffy little red kayak.

Sirius, my chow/Aussie mix

Sirius, my chow/Aussie mix

Walking my dog Sirius is high on my list of humble pleasures too. He’s so fascinated by the world around him, especially its olfactory aspects, and so polite and friendly to the people we meet, that his positivity is contagious. Unfortunately, when we meet another dog walking its owner on leash, he goes ballistic, becoming instantly airborne, whirling in circles and barking wildly. At just forty pounds, he’s fairly easy to control, unlike some of my former dogs, so his fleeting mania doesn’t pose a major problem. I don’t believe he wants to attack the other dogs; he simply wants to get more intimately acquainted. And when we pass other dogs chained in their yards and barking furiously, he passes them by in quiet dignity with eyes averted, every inch the gentleman.

This immersion in the natural world that surrounds me is probably my most meaningful spiritual practice. Yet when I was in the depths of depression, the kind of despair I described in my post about Robin Williams, I was oblivious to these pleasures. For two years I ignored my garden, letting it go to seed and weed. I didn’t swim in the lake or launch my kayak. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that we didn’t have a dog in residence at the time; dogs make marvelous antidepressants.

“Somewhere sunny and seventy-five” – that’s how country singer Joe Nichols describes the

Joe Nichols

Joe Nichols

perfect day and the woman who evokes those summertime feelings in him. Here in upstate New York, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of days like this. I’ve taken full advantage, here at home and with excursions to a few of this area’s many attractions: Tanglewood for classical music, Hunter Mountain for country, Saratoga for Steely Dan and the races, Lake George for the Americade motorcycle rally. I’ve been to two women’s retreats – one at a cabin at a Vermont lake, another for writers in Connecticut.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

I’m deeply grateful for my good fortune. Measuring my existence in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m well above the midpoint. All my basic needs are comfortably met, I have a loving family, my self-esteem gets better with age, and I’m somewhere in the lower reaches of the top triangle of self-actualization. I have the luxury of contemplating a variety of choices. Some will bring me present-time pleasure and others will bring me closer to realizing my creative dreams. Should I go out to a movie with my husband or confront the last chapter of my novel? Should I do some gardening or finish this blog post? Maybe I can do a little of everything – but only after I watch this afternoon’s General Hospital. After all, I need to keep my priorities straight.

I’m well aware that billions of people around the world don’t enjoy my level of luxury. I began this blog post intending to discuss the growing division between the haves and the have-nots in this country. Not counting the 1%, there are millions like me who have paid our dues for decades in the educational system and the workplace and can afford to kick back and reap the rewards of our labor. Then there are the millions of others – and their numbers are steadily growing – who are desperately clinging to the bottom rungs of the ladder of Maslow’s pyramid. Those millions will never enjoy the luxury of mulling over the many pleasurable paths to self-actualization.

But forget about gloomy ruminations. Right now it’s time to turn on ABC and see how that kidnapping is coming along, and whether Silas’s evil wife will win out over his true love. After that, I’ll take my dog outside and play in the dirt. Today, while it’s still sunny and seventy-five.


The shadow side of nature

Today’s Memorial Day, a natural time for musings on mortality and the shadow side of our lives and the world around us.

Late yesterday afternoon I dragged my garden hose to the back yard for yet another session of watering. (It’s been abnormally dry here in upstate New York.) When I got to the viburnum I planted seven years ago, I was shocked to find practically all its leaves had turned to sheer, lacy skeletons. A mild breeze was blowing some of them off the branches. Looking up at the few relatively intact leaves and pitiful white flowers that remained, I noticed shadowy black forms. Something dropped onto my bare arm. I examined the squirming culprit – a tiny caterpillar-like creature, about a third of an inch long.

Three days ago, the viburnum, now over eight feet tall, was in flower and flourishing – or so I believed. But all the while, this creature and its thousands of brethren were coming alive, unseen beneath the leaves. Perhaps they’d wintered over. They’re not tent caterpillars – those are larger and much more obvious. I’ll do the mandatory Google research and get the facts: What is this nasty creature, and what can I do about it? I’ve never seen it before; could this have something to do with climate change? Can this beautiful shrub be saved, or is it already too late? Would radical pruning help?

In previous waterings, I’d been ignoring the viburnum and concentrating on the smaller perennials and the new plantings, but now I set the hose on soak and draped it low in the branches to give the shrub a good long drink. Then I helped my husband move a 300-pound slab of snowy white Vermont marble to the edge of the front yard near the road, where the garden ends. (He used to be into stone sculpture, and we still have a few beautiful slabs around. They’re a little reminiscent of gravestones, and that’s probably what much of the marble was quarried for.)

Our neighbor Wendy came along to help maneuver the stone into place. Just back from visiting her 89-year-old mother in the hospital, she told us they’d stopped all aggressive measures and started a morphine drip. Wendy’s strong, and she loves physical yard work. Maybe wrestling with that slab of marble was just what she needed at that moment.

Oh, and there are small black birds nesting in the corner of our eaves outside the bedroom. We can hear them chirping all day, beginning at dawn. But it’s not too bad – my husband and I both have severe tinnitus, and the chirping blends right in. The birds drive our cats crazy, but that’s another story . . .

A beautiful shrub under lethal attack, funereal white marble, black birds in the eaves, an old woman near death – you might think I’d be depressed. But threading all the images together, dark and shadowy as they may be, fills me with elation. Guess that’s why I write mysteries!

Tomorrow, tune in for more on the shadow side of life, with nods to Carl Jung and Sue Grafton.