Never promised you a (hosta) garden

There are a lot of Things in our yard.

Green things. Purple things. Weed-like things. Bushes, shrubs, flowering things.

I’ve never had a garden. I’ve never had my own yard. I lived at home until I was 28, and the collective idea of yard work was waking up to the hum of my dad’s lawn mower on Saturday mornings and occasionally ridding a small flower bed of its weeds in the spring. I remember planting impatiens with my mom as a kid, but my interest — and help! — was minimal. Very minimal.

We raked leaves in the fall and blew dandelions in summer, sure, but there wasn’t really work to do out there. My sister and I splashed in a kiddie pool, took friends to swing on our wooden bench and played with dogs in the backyard, but it was — to me — a maintenance-free space. One I took entirely for granted.

Now that we’re responsible for a hunk of the outdoors on our “property” (man, that feels fancy!), I’m learning the care and keeping of a yard is time-consuming. And I have no earthly idea what I’m doing. Since I cower from mosquitoes and bees and generally anything categorized as “creepy-crawly,” my preference isn’t to spend much time out there . . . but we have a big front yard facing our street, and people see our house.

We’re still the new kids on the block — and I can’t get lazy this quickly.

Spence and I haven’t officially selected chores yet, but I’ve naturally fallen into the role of flower-bed-keeper because he cuts the grass, chops down poison ivy (and gets poison ivy . . .) and saws through fallen logs while I have trimmed hedges and pushed hair out of my face. So I guess we’re even? (Kidding.)

I’ve unofficially taken over the task of weeding the rock gardens near our front porch because they’re chaotic and ugly, and it seems relatively simple to solve.

I mean, if you don’t mind sweating.

When my mother- and father-in-law were here to help us move in late June, they kindly tackled our grown-over flower beds before returning home. We had straight-up trees (!) growing near the shrubs, and the weed situation was pretty horrific. Basically, it was a strip of weeds in front of the house — weeds that were choking all the “good” plants that had started to appear in spring, and something had to be done about it.

I did a little maintenance a few weeks ago — the first time the yard needed work since that late-June purge. The shrubs were hacked to nubs back when we first went to see the house in March, and we worried they were all dead . . . but they sprang to life as soon as the snow thawed, and they’ve been growing strong ever since.

It looked like this in winter:

Dead yard

And then, left untended, it looked like this:

And then, with some cursing and sweating, it transformed into this:

. . . For now, anyway!

We have hostas, as you see — a plant I couldn’t have picked out to save my life, but visitors have all exclaimed, “Oh, you have hostas!” And now said hostas have really tall, really weird purple flowers sprouting out of them? And hopefully this is normal?

I’m learning.

I’d like to say I’m making progress toward my green thumb, but that would require me actively caring for a plant . . . as it stands, I merely hack out what I don’t want growing here and hope for the best.

Come spring, I have great ambitions of contracting our yard out to a friend’s wise daughter and actually making some executive decisions about what to do with the ample outdoor space we have languishing here.

IMG_5318

For now, I pull weeds from the roots, avoid bugs and wave to Spencer on the lawn mower.

A plan that works for everyone.


Humbled by nature


It seems strange that I should feel optimistic in fall, when all around things are changing and falling and landing softly on the ground.

But I do.

We went on a little field trip to a local park over the weekend — and I’ll be showing you the photographic mementos of that trip tomorrow! But for today? I was standing beneath these too-tall trees, craning my neck as far back as it would go. And it was not enough.

Just like the redwoods, it’s impossible to take in the enormity of nature until you’re standing beneath it. Quiet. Humbled. That’s been the theme of my 2012: Humbled By Nature. (Catchy — sounds like a band or something.) I’ve been waxing poetic about the great outdoors since we went to California in May, and I haven’t stopped thinking about Yosemite.

I’m finally learning, at 27, that my happiness directly correlates to the amount of sunshine on my skin. Fresh air in my lungs. New sights, smells and scenery to enjoy. Whether my camera is glued to my palm. And to my surprise, I like being outside. Even when I’m wearing inappropriate footwear.

Though I’m really getting better about that. I’m in sneakers most of the time — a fact that would horrify my once-fashionable and often barefoot self. But it’s not easy to scale hills, walk beaches and sunflower fields, skid on ice or scramble over rocky shoreline in flats or sandals.



Guess I really am growing up.


The pretend orchardist


Sometimes I like to pretend . . . I’m not me.

Maybe it’s the mindset of a writer. Or, ah . . . maybe I’m just a little quirky. Either way, I like stepping outside myself occasionally to think about life in other places, other environments. That means taking a break from being a 27-year-old suburbanite who spends her days with words — in columns; blog posts; newspaper features — to become the a girl with dirt-stained jeans at work on a family farm. Or the wizened old farmer patiently churning apple butter over an open flame. Or the energetic country kid climbing a hay stack that stretches into the sky.



Having lived in the same town since I was two, it’s fun to imagine life elsewhere. I’m always peppering my boyfriend with questions as we cruise through far-flung places: “Where do you think people work around here? How do they have fun?”

On Sunday, I thought about being an orchardist. The grove was quiet as we climbed the hilltop, away from the din of the festival below — a sequestered spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Far from home. Out in the country, away the hubbub and the chaos . . . well, it just feels easier to breathe.



In keeping with my recent farming obsession, Graves Mountain Farm in Syria, Va., was a hay-scented playground. I thought about Amanda Coplin’s novel as we walked the rows of near-barren trees, feeling a cool breeze on my sunburned face. Though I know nothing about crops, I can appreciate the serenity of nature — and feel at peace in the mountains.

When we crested the hill in the orchard, I was so fixated on looking for apples that I didn’t bother turning around. I didn’t look back to see how far we’d come. But that was the best view: of the working farm and silos below; the crowded festival in the distance; the lodge on the hill. Mountains rising up beyond, lightly dotted with the colors of autumn. Lone apples in the branches just out of reach.



Full moon


Unless I’m worried about a werewolf attack (which, you know — I’m totally not), I rarely pay much attention to the moon. It’s there, and I’m grateful — especially if it doesn’t get any closer and cause a reaction severe enough to plunge us into unnatural winter. And other disasters.

I never worry about these things, anyway. Like, ever. Um.

Saturday’s full moon was bright, big and unmistakable. After a full day at photography boot camp, I was ready to put some of my newly-acquired knowledge to use. But because I stubbornly refuse to use a tripod, I was fighting with camera shake. Eh. Regardless, I was able to hand-hold a shot well enough to capture the above, my best view of the moon to date . . . and though it’s nothing compared to this, I was pretty impressed. And feeling good.

Until my scientist boyfriend discovered I didn’t know the moon’s “glow” is really just reflected sunlight. And then I was playfully mocked.

Guess I should have stayed awake a little more in science class.


Just another day at Yosemite


What could I possibly say about Yosemite National Park that far more talented people haven’t already offered?

That’s how I feel thinking about Yosemite: speechless. Tiny. Powerless. A speck in the universe — one small person, a woman trying to hold up her chin in the shadows of something so much larger than myself. Of all the places we visited in California, all beautiful, it was Yosemite that made the biggest impression on me.

In the weeks since we returned home, I’ve found myself incessantly Googling the park and its waterfalls. I wrote a column about it for the paper. Yosemite is now my screensaver. My precious photos are stacked in folders so I can look at them often, remembering our all-too-brief time in the park. It flashed by in an instant.

Once we made it to Yosemite Valley, a perilous drive on our tour bus from Tioga Pass, Spencer and I practically ran from our group to see Yosemite Falls. I’m a wee bit obsessed with cataracts . . . and I guess that’s an understatement. I’m a waterfall chaser. If there’s rushing water to be found, I will seek it out — and photograph the heck out of it (see: my long-standing fascination with Niagara Falls). I’m most happy standing by the roar of falling water with spray dusting my shoulders.

So how did Yosemite Falls measure up? Very, very well. After walking an easy path up to the base of the lower falls, I could only stand in awe. It’s cliche, I know, but sometimes you can’t look up into the face of Mother Nature and think anything but, “Wow.”



I’m not outdoorsy. I hate bugs, can’t bear the thought of using the restroom outdoors, need a clean bed and pillow on which to rest at night. I don’t swim or hike or climb things. Generally speaking? I’m pretty lazy. I don’t like getting sweaty and am pretty annoying when I’m hot and thirsty.

But put a waterfall sighting within my grasp and I’ll be bumping tourists off paths through sheer determination alone.

Waterfalls aside, Yosemite is a truly magical place. Just driving around on a bus left me awestruck, staring out the windows at scenes like this:



I mean, really.

I’m going to be honest with you: since returning home to Maryland, I’ve thought about why I live on the East Coast. My answers are vast and varied, starting and ending — most importantly — with the fact that Washington, D.C., is my home. The only place I’ve ever lived. The only place I’ve ever known, and where my family and friends are. It’s where I work. Where I’ve started my career. Where I’ve built relationships. It’s where Spencer is.

But sometimes when we travel — taking in other vistas, other views — it’s easy to imagine yourself somewhere else, doing something else. Like building a camp and squatting illegally in a national park, say. Living off the land. Photographing streams. Scaling cliff faces and wandering the Sierra Nevada — a miniature (and female) John Muir.

Sometimes places call to you, grabbing your hand and refusing to let go.

I’ll always remember holding Spencer’s hand as we walked to the base of that waterfall. And my heavy, heavy heart as we turned to go.