“You know what’s growing in your woods, don’t you,” our affable neighbor said quietly as he stood paused at his bird feeder that sits in a cleared area of the land between us.
I had ventured over to that side of our yard to do some cleanup in the unusually warm weather.
He and I had already exchanged pleasantries and I was somewhat nervous he would bring up the rather large tree that had fallen from our side of the woods onto downed trees on his side of the woods. I was certain our tree had taken out a bunch of his trees during the hidden summer months and we were going to have a talk about that.
“No,” I looked up from the bag of leaves I was filling, “but I’m guessing it’s not good?” I smiled genuinely, hoping I didn’t appear anxious.
He walked gently over to the edge of the woods on our property. The property I had been meticulously manicuring for the past several weeks right up to the line of woods where he now stood. I had been leaf blowing, mowing, raking, leaf blowing some more, mowing again, and admittedly pushing some of what seemed like leaf litter into said woods.
He waved his hand pointing over a swath of ground and said, “All of that green foliage…that’s buckthorn.” I looked in the direction he was pointing and all I saw was green foliage. “It’s invasive and you don’t want that.”
For what I had considered about the woods, I had admittedly paid little to no attention to what was actually growing there. All I knew was that the woods could blanket the “lawn” part of our yard with more leaves in one day than I think I saw in my entire childhood in Colorado. The woods provide great shade in the summer, fun hiking days all year long and, no matter the day, they seem the perfect haven for the birds, squirrels, deer and turkey I love watching.
“Oh my gosh! I had no idea. ALL of that green is bad?” I looked deeper into the woods realizing that there were a lot of shrubs still clothed in vibrant green and a stark contrast to the dulled and muted autumn hue of browns and maroons.
“Yep, it gets just about everywhere, and it is tough to fight. I’m not really an ecologist, but I know it screws up the wildlife.”
I was immediately saddened that I hadn’t been fighting the fight I should have been.
I apologized profusely, got advice about battling the botanical beast and continued to survey with my eyes the war I was going to need to wage for the rest of the time my husband and I live in this house. War with something, up to that point at least, I had no idea was even growing in our yard.
OUR MARRIAGE ACCORDING TO PLANTS
THE YUCCA FACTOR
The very first home my husband and I owned was situated at the top of a hill in the arid, high desert of Monument, Colorado. Spectacular views of the mountains, but not much in the way of plants. A pair of small pine trees grew on that lot and practically nothing else. It was a familiar landscape for me, but unfamiliar and boring for my Midwest husband who had been accustomed to blossoming plants by the lakes and vibrant northwoods.
“You mowed the yucca plants?” I yelled at him as he rolled our battered lawn mower into the garage.
“Those things will not mow down,” he said as the mower hummed to a stop and he and I stood looking at the frayed and mangled remnants of the yucca plants in our backyard xeriscape.
“They’re not meant to be mowed down.” I said with resignation, “They are plants that grow here.”
“Oh,” he shrugged, “I didn’t know that.”
Yucca plants are spiky and resilient, but admittedly not the prettiest plant on the planet. My husband’s tendency is to cut ugly to the quick and start over. I like to sit with ugly a bit longer and determine what I’m meant to learn.
At that point in our marriage we were trying to figure out how to let even unattractive truths flourish. We had to acknowledge the naturally occurring plants, before we could create fertile ground for anything else.
It was in Colorado I had to choose to grow: through our marriage. It was on the backdrop of sandy hills covered with spiky plants that I desperately needed something to grow…or at least to learn how to let things grow the way they were meant to.
With a number of fits and starts, we started a conversation about how we would both grow best and our transition to the Midwest began.
THANK YOU FOR MY BOUQUET OF DANDELIONS
Our yards here in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been home to plenty of naturally occurring plants as well as the purposeful landscaping of the families who lived in those spaces before us. I learn about a new plant every year.
Our Woodbury house needed major dandelion maintenance, yet we were at the point in our marriage when children required more time and care than I could possibly devote to deweeding my front yard.
I was tempted to craft a sign to post in the front yard: “Don’t mind the weeds…we are growing children” but I didn’t have time for that either.
BACK TO THE BUCKTHORN
This new phase in our marriage is a tricky one. We seem to have the yard in order. We’ve learned to maintain the landscaping, our children are of age where child labor is considered appropriate, and I am proud of our lawn. It’s manicured and it looks like we care about it as much as we do.
On the surface I suppose our marriage is similar. We’ve got the children toting and schedule coordinating down. We have worked out the rhythm as we move in and around each other through a year. It’s very easy to let the marriage run on cruise control and ride out the remaining years of our children being home. The problem is, if we ignore the buckthorn growing in the woods, we will soon be overrun. It chokes out other plants and an inattention to marriage maintenance does the same thing.
Maybe it’s age issues. Maybe it’s battling through self-worth or lifelong goals. Maybe it’s tackling fears or pursuing joy. Without intention, I’m not sure we really ever know the truth about ugly things that have a chance to grow when they go unchecked. Ignoring the maintenance we need to keep doing at this point in our marriage is easier than pulling out buckthorn that only he and I (and an observant birder next door) knows is there. It’s not a quick fix, and I’m fairly certain there will always be buckthorn. Making a decision to continue to pull it out is our best chance to encourage anything beautiful to grow and flourish. It’s in our best interest to start now.
We’ll have enough time to sit with this ugly and work through cutting it down to the quick together. What an advancement in our marriage!
Copyright 2015 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow