Banyan tree in Hawai’i
Photo by Emma Gossett / Unsplash

What ripping up roots in my life and my garden have taught me this year, and then some

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”Sophia Loren.

Saga Supporter Jim Stutsman called today as I was wending my slow way up the steep hill to my house. This was day four of The Walk, which is part of recovery from the foot surgeries. Oh, the progress is swift, but that's another story.

The long and short of our conversation was about my book Wordfood, which needs to be deconstructed into a Word document so that I can update the material for today's audiences. Jim pointed out, kindly, that my attachment to keeping the hard copy form and the book design, which cost me a fortune, was rooting me in the past.

I hate it when he's right, ya know?

My ego likes that damned book in my hand.

My rootedness in the past, my attachment to a book from 2010, was getting in the way. Jim's helping me with this by getting the material off Kindle and putting it into a Word doc, which is incredibly generous of him. That will allow me to crisp up the copy and drop dated material. Then what we do with it is another journey.

Where else do I have deep roots where they don't serve? Where do I have attitudes and attachments which strangle forward movement?

Isn't that always a question?

This is a theme I constantly rehash, because it's constantly in my face. Events of the last year have offered plenty of chances to let go, rethink, regroup, rebuild and in every other kind of way, constantly start all over again. Often there are beliefs and attitudes in my world which are incredibly stubborn, and they will forever resist any attempt at removal. Shy of Roundup, which not only poisons the garden but also the gardener, sometimes we just negotiate terms.

First, though, the yard-I-thought-would-be-someone-else's- by-this-time.

I grabbed my new clippers and garden gloves and limped- there's always that- to my front garden. There, the St. John's Wort was getting ready to bloom. I had work to do, which also speaks to roots.

the first St. John's Wort bloom

I was about to rip up some St. John's Wort, because it was killing my new trees.

Last week my landscaper explained that my love for a certain kind of ferns is also killing off some of the plants and trees. He showed me where the vinca, a vining ground cover, and those ferns were strangling my azaleas for sun and water. A new maple I'd planted was also struggling in the St. John's Wort.

Point taken.

This maple gets freed up tomorrow

This maple is being limited not only by the cage but the ground cover deflects the water from the root system. So the poor tree, which is dwarfed by those at my neighbor's, has been begging me to give it a little room and air. And water.

I spent the last hour pulling up the St. John's Wort- which just takes over - from around my young maples. It was stunting growth in that embarrassing way that old habits and belief stunt me if I allow them, like my attachment to the book.

Harder than it looks!

Nature is full of analogies, isn't She?

I probably don't need to point out that almost as soon as these areas are cleaned out, ground cover creeps back. Around here, blackberries are so deeply embedded into the hillsides that even if you took a backhoe to upend the whole yard, you'd just give all those roots plenty more sunshine to explode into new brambles.

Brambles live in here but I keep them nipped back. Negotiated terms.

This spring looks very different from last year, when I had income, big travel plans and had just launched Walkabout Saga on Patreon. A year ago Monday, I was photographing Kilimanjaro out the window of my airplane as I wended my way past that mountain, where I had summitted in 2013.

Oh I was going to do it again this year. Best-laid plans, right?

By the time I finished my Africa trip in June, my world had shattered at the same time I had begun this difficult journey with all the surgeries. My income was gone, the house went up for sale, I sold much of my stuff, I committed to letting go. Frankly, out of panic. While I don't like to admit it, still. I did panic.

Those of you who've been with me for a while know all this; I can't assume new readers do, so bear with me.

I tried to uproot again. The house and this area were rooted in me, for the time being at least.

This place has a hold on me like a strangler fig. It was where I needed to heal. A great deal I needed to notice. Mostly, about what's inside me.

The fact that the house was empty was part of the gift, which I have addressed elsewhere.

This is home.

That forced me to do some weeding. First, it was emotional. What part of me, after working so hard to get here, after purchasing this lovely home in this gorgeous place, was so quick to put a for-sale sign on it?

Why didn't I deserve to live here?

Those beliefs were my weeds, if you will, which were choking out the water and sun from my being able to fully enjoy the gift I'd given myself.

I'm still answering that question, but I'm also countering it with action.

I've begun to meet and make friends, which is another kind of roots. That has been challenging, not the least because of what one new friend explained to me about the "freeze:"

If you weren’t born in Seattle or the Northwest, you’ll never be one of us
CHANCES ARE pretty good that everybody is going to hate this. Sorry for the wet-blanket launch. But we are here to engage in the ill-advised task of chatting about the true “character” of the Northwest native, and this is probably…

You could take Ron Judd's sentiments and modify them slightly for any community in the country, whether that was Southern California in the Sixties, Florida's small towns-now-major-cities, and any and all nice places before people started moving in and ruining it. Which, kindly, is everywhere all over the world. But I digress.

Judd's article spoke to precisely all the things I love best about being in this part of the world. I feel an intense, deep and lasting connection to everything that makes the PNW the PNW. The cold, the wet, the rain, the intense foliage, all of it is one deep and impassioned love affair. Which is probably why the attempt to sell the house didn't work. Nowhere have I ever been happier.

Why was I working so hard to dump that thing I knew I loved, a house right in the woods? Close to the coast? Thanks to that coastal trip back in March where I saw my own backyard in the sequoia stand, sanity won out.

The "You don't deserve this" voice is pretty strong in me. Penny Nelson wrote a bit about those doubting voices in one of her comments recently.

Weeding out physical stuff has been going on in my life for at least six or seven years, largely because I sure collected a lot. Weeding out attitudes, beliefs and the idiot chatter which has limited me my entire life?

I'm not sure we ever do. Part of me thinks that their purpose is to keep us questioning and questing. We don't get to be lazy; life doesn't benefit us when we are emotionally or spiritually lazy. That said, another kind of lazy does indeed benefit.

Saga Supporter Nalini MacNab pointed out a while back that I was making a thinly-veiled reference to standing in my kitchen watching the birds feed as "wasted time." It's taken me a minute to really absorb the profound healing power of that very thing. To the point where now, I am spending a whole lot more time outside, sitting, reading, but often, just quietly dozing off.

That is hardly wasted time. I recalled this when she and I were sharing photos of the iris from our respective living spaces earlier this spring.

After all the major repairs this last year, I'm due some dozing off time, with the dappled sunlight and the inquisitive chickadees and scolding jays my primary company.

Penny Nelson and her husband are slowly but surely letting go of their land, re-homing their beloved animals and making plans to move closer to town, a necessity for all of us as we age. I held close to a dream of lots of acres of my very own. I had forty of them on a mountainside in Idaho- not a state I'd be happy living in these days- a quarter of a century ago.

Had I stayed, I would have been miles out of a tiny town on a mountainside, with a whole different set of challenges to manage.

Here I have the forest, but am in town, barely two miles from an urgent care and twenty minutes from my VA clinic. I can't live Way Out. Besides, I don't really want to. This forested yard two miles from grocery shopping and my gym is perfect. I absolutely have the best of both worlds. And a third: the coast.

Many of you have written me privately (you cannot imagine what a gift that has been, thank you) and offered ideas, thoughts, and encouragement during what has at times been pretty tough physically. I've had to release this determined notion of myself as an adventure athlete enough so that when and if I return to that world- and all fingers point to that in some form- I will do so fully healed, but also well-rooted where I am.

What's fundamentally different this decade, a realization that my ego really did not want to embrace, is that I no longer have the luxury of picking up and moving any time I like. When we hit this point, you and I have to have a fifteen-year plus plan in place. What we have now - from the health standpoint- may look very different by then. It's time to start preparing for what cannot be sidestepped- age- although we most assuredly can prepare well.

This morning as I came back from an early appointment, I passed my new friend Alice, out on the main road walking her sweet rescue dog, Hazel. I turned around and drove by again to wish her happy camping. She is off right about now to eastern Oregon wilds. While slow, making friends here will happen, especially now that I'm no longer hog-tied to my house because of scooters and boots and braces.

I do get to choose to be rooted here, along with all the challenges and opportunities which are anywhere. I get to choose to love being seventy, and explore what that means for a new decade.

Roots anywhere happen because we invest in people and places. Putting roots down means having weeds pop up. No getting rid of them, but then, I think that's the whole point. The weeds keep things interesting.

My wife leading us through the hiking trail
Photo by Blake Cheek / Unsplash

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