Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

when hot sweaty work is NOT a royal pain

imageThis was my morning. My elder son & I wrangled over each individual magnolia branch, pretty much. See, I’m a tree person, and Nathan is a landscape person. He wants a useful and beautiful landscape for his home. I want trees treated like people, allowed to grow (with help — AKA judicious pruning) to their best selves.

Sometimes, these alternate realities are not easy to reconcile. :)


Luckily, my wonderful DIL is a good mediator, as are my husband and younger son. And my grandson is a marvelous distraction.

And even though it looks like chaos, w/ all the branches strewn beneath, I know that the magnolia is the best compromise possible — more branches left lower (and fuller) than Nathan probably anticipated, but fewer than I would have done for my own tree.

Parenting is like this. You’re always juggling freedom w/  knowledge. In this case, I have a LOT of tree knowledge, hard-won over decades of crappy yards, and reading up on the various ecologies where we’ve lived. The desert (henna and Natal plum  and hibiscus), the tropics (plumeria and bougainvillea), the prairie (dogwood and redbud and pecan).


I’m a complete tree nerd, I confess. :)image

But my son isn’t, although he’s quite knowledgeable in his own right. And like most of our children, his objectives are different than mine. For me, aesthetics is a huge deal. For him, the man who began his college career as an engineer, functionality is more critical. He is his father’s son: he want head room for a mower. Me? I’d push the mower forward under the tree line. :)


But as you can see, together with my daughter-in-law, husband, and younger son, the two trees turned out well. And in the long-term? They’ll flourish. Kind of like my sons: not what I thought they’d be (I never planned for them to live so far away!), but incredibly lovely.

This seems an appropriate reflection, given that this is the last holiday we’ll all share for quite a while. My younger son is readying for an around-the-world trip, one he anticipates will take at least a year or more. Which means this Fourth of July holiday is all the more precious. And the hot, sweaty work of  picking up branches, and straining against lopper just sliiiiightly too small for the branch that needs cutting less a pain than a communal project.

This isn’t work I like to do at home. But here, w/ family members on the deck, taking turns holding & feeding the grandson, it’s heaven. Or at least a Virginia equivalent. Amazing what love can do to sweeten hard work.


just add water: swimming with little fishes

imageI took my grandson swimming today. To a tiny inflatable pool off the side of the deck at the ‘kids’ house. We sat in the 85 degree air, in tepid water, liberally coated w/ SPF 50, and splashed. And splashed. And splashed again, with great enthusiasm.

Then we filled a Solo cup with a pink floaty sponge, and held our tongues out to be shot with a water gun. Not to mention throwing a filthy yellow tennis ball that Silas-the-wonder-dog kept dropping in the water for fetch.


It was its own form of Nirvana — the everyday miracle of a happy life.

My grandson played at swimming — paddling as he lay across my outstretched legs, putting his head in the water to drink (don’t tell my son — I would NEVER have let my sons do that, but this is my grandson!). I gently poured water over him, and he laughed happily.

Me too.image

What is about swimming with little fishes? How is it that my world simplifies, and reduces in size like cropping a picture back to only the essential image?


Much of it is, of course, the way a 13-month-old little fish reminds me of how magic a summer-day-add-water is. You don’t even need much water: enough to pour from a cup, enough to cool off when the sun goes behind a cloud.

Just an ordinary day, with a little extra magic: sunlight and water. And a one-year-old who hasn’t yet forgotten how special those are.


road trip

Ol' Man River

Ol’ Man River

We’re on a three-day road trip to Virginia, from Oklahoma (burglars beware: my sister and her two attack hounds are house-sitting!). Which means crossing both Arkansas, and Tennessee. Which means…crossing the Mississippi River!

I adore the Mississippi River — the folk lore, the history, the stories. Mark Twain. Some day, when I grow up ( :) ), I’ll be rich enough to go on a riverboat ride, from the New Orleans delta north as far as I can ride.


In the meantime, I’m settling for quick snapshots from a car window, as we drive over the bridge that’s the boundary between Arkansas and Tennessee.

Road trips are wonderful — even when it pours (it has, for hours, in vertical BUCKETS). Even when much of yesterday’s trip was spent at a standstill, in single lane traffic on a four-lane highway. Even when you’re tired, and you miss the exit for the bathroom…image

They’re still magic. Because there’s this huge green wilderness that’s America, and you’re travelling in this tiny motorised vehicle (compared to the trucks on I40, even a Prius wagon is tiny!). No, it’s not my grandmother’s covered wagon from Kentucky. But it’s all part of that vast American myth, sometimes dark and horrible (slave ships), sometimes adventure on steroids (families in covered wagons, in the 19th century).


Not to mention that there’s that all too rare treasure: time. Time to talk, time to relax, time to figure out the precise image that should live in a tanka you add to a growing collection of road trip poetry.

Yes, this is a trip to see family over the 4th of July, as families all over America are gathering to celebrate. And I love that we’re doing it via a piece of American mythology: the road trip.


mistakes that aren’t bad

via google

via google

Making reservations for hotels while we’re on vacation, I couldn’t get the online form to ‘submit.’ Literally. Try after try, it said I wasn’t finished.  Yes I am! I thought. Dumb computer

But you know what? I’d messed up, and the form was right. I did NOT want to send it in w/ 2 rooms for 1 adult, instead of 1 room for the two of us.


Whether it was dumb luck or divine providence, it made me stop and wonder: how often have what seemed to be mistakes — even minor catastrophes — turned out to be that old blessing in disguise? And how often do I wail for no reason — even refusing to see the good that can come from a ‘mistake.’

It’s like the story Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer told, of a man whose only cow is taken. When an onlooker complains to an angel he’s accompanying (you need to find the story!), the angel replies: We were scheduled to take the wife, but he’s such a good man, we took the cow instead.


via google

via google

That’s not really a mistake, I know. But it’s the same point, at least to me. ‘Bad’ things may actually have good consequences.

All day today, when I stubbed my toe, or had a headache from my eye exam (I sooo hate having my eyes dilated!), or found the shirt I wanted clean for the trip in a messy heap, I thought about this. And you know what?

My day seemed measurably more pleasant. There may well have been angels watching.

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