5/28/20

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I am just not a plant person. One big reason for that might be that I tend to kill them. But really, while I don’t like to take care of plants, whether they’re indoors or outdoors, I think it’s more about my not liking to dig in dirt, and it’s also connected with my fear of birds. You have to dig in dirt, no matter if a plant is in your house or around it. Birds, well…that’s for the outdoor plants.

Back when I was living in my first house, I actually took care of a lot of outdoor plants. I had a huge bed of lilies of the valley lining the back of my house. I really did love them. When those little bells bloomed in the spring, they were just the prettiest things. My daughter would always cut a batch and bring them in to her teacher. I also had geraniums which grew to enormous sizes and a variety of pots and flowering bushes. My lilac bush was the envy of the neighborhood.

One day, I was weeding the lilies of the valley. I was not wearing gardening gloves. I reached under the crowd of leaves and found what felt like a big rock. I pulled it out…and found myself holding a very dead bird in my very bare hand.

Now for most people, this would likely elicit a shriek and maybe even a pitch of the bird over the head and as far away as possible. I did shriek, though I think my neighbors probably thought of it more of a blood-curdling scream. And as to how far I threw the damn thing…it was never found again.

But that’s not where it ended. See, when I was eight years old and still liked birds, I found a dead robin. I very carefully picked it up and carried it home. I was going to ask my mother for a shoebox and I was going to give the poor thing a decent burial. But when my mom saw it, she gave a shriek that was remarkably similar to the one I would let out decades later, and that bird flew too, in a very dead way. Then I was hauled down to the basement where she scrubbed my hands in the laundry tubs in water so hot, I could barely stand it, and she yelled the entire time about how birds are covered with mites and bugs and fleas and worms and how we had to get them off my skin. She used one of those scrubbing sponges, and by the time she was done, I was beyond tears and my hands were bleeding. I was bandaged to the point where I couldn’t play for about a week.

As this was the same year I watched Hitchcock’s The Birds (I don’t remember which came first), I’d say that’s where my fear of birds started. Right now, I won’t walk in one of my favorite places, Waukesha’s Riverwalk, because the red-winged blackbirds are having babies and the parent birds are dive-bombing people’s heads. I’ve seen runners wearing biking helmets. I freeze when I see geese. I just can’t do birds. And that day when I was weeding…there was a dead bird in my hands again. Consequently, digging in dirt to take care of plants means dead birds. No more gardening for me.

When we moved here, I was relived there wasn’t a yard. I have a teeny strip in front of the AllWriters’ big window. I have hostas there and some big red lilies that come back every year. Thankfully, this doesn’t require much weeding and it’s such a slim space, if a bird bonked off the window, as they have, it would bounce onto the sidewalk and I would see it. I place two pots of flowers around my concrete lion, a pot of flowers on Olivia’s little deck on the second floor, and two pots of flowers on our third floor deck. This year, we added three little pots that hang from an outdoor clock. None of these require weeding. I can stand above them and just water.

This year, the plant-shopping was a little more frazzling. I like to get my plants from Home Depot, as I’ve had great luck with the plant-longevity there. When I arrived this year, I was shocked at the number of people not wearing masks (I had one on). I very carefully wound my way around the crowd and dove in when there were blanks to look at and select my flowers. When it came time to check out, they had lovely markings on the parking lot, keeping us all six feet from each other. The check-out person was masked and gloved. I breathed a masked sigh of relief, paid for my plants, and brought them home. I made a quick pit stop at Stein’s as I wanted some outdoor statuary of – believe it or not – peacocks or cranes to put around my water fountain. She’s a large nude woman, and a couple birds around her, birds that have never given me trouble and these birds would be fake, so they’d be fine, seemed appropriate. Surprisingly, in Steins, people were masked. And most people were outside. The fake birds were inside. I brought home two peacocky-craney things and one definite peacock.

At home, I spent the rest of the afternoon getting things set up. The plants went into the pots. The fake birds got set up. My hibiscus tree, bought a few weeks earlier, was blooming as if joy ran through its planty veins. We had a new little table and chairs. I filled and turned on my fountain. And then it was all done.

I sat down in one of our rockers. Michael sat in the other. Olivia perched on the wicker loveseat. And in the middle of a city, all was peaceful. Sure, there was the sound of cars going by. But we were high up on the third floor. There was flowing water. There were cushioned seats. And there were flowers.

And no birds. Not real ones, anyway.

It was peaceful. I breathed a sigh of relief. Without a mask.

Sometimes, facing a fear doesn’t mean overcoming it. Sometimes, it means learning to live alongside it. I have my flowers without digging in the dirt. I even have my pretty birds, without having to worry about mites and bugs and fleas and worms, and without having to wash my hands to the point of bleeding. Despite fear, I was able to create a sanctuary, using some of the same things, in slightly different versions, I’m afraid of.

Bliss.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The 3rd floor deck. Right outside my office.
The fountain. I call her Lady Big Butt. And the birds that don’t scare me.
Little Leo Literary Lion gets to smell the flowers too.
And Olivia’s little deck gets little flowers. Pink, of course. And a pink flamingo.

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