What you see when you are at home

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Photo by Theresa Barker.

There is a “lost” spot in our yard, which borders on a natural ravine, a spot that has for years been a neglected place in our neighborhood.  It is technically part of our property and part of a neighbor’s property and adjacent to city-owned street right-of-way, and none of us has had the time or attention to clear out the invasive ivy and Himalayan blackberry, let alone the recently run-wild nettles – which, while being native (unlike ivy and blackberry), can still make a place hostile and inhospitable to other plants and living things.  I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts, as have some of my  neighbors, to the improve the plantings in this spot at the end of the street, but only sporadically and with more hope than intent, to be honest.  The place sits under a very nice old and mature cedar tree, which makes the ground despairingly dry for other plantings.  It’s a hardship to water, being at some distance from the rest of my yard, and all along I’ve hoped my attempts (a few sword ferns here, some native Oregon grape there) would somehow take hold and reclaim the ground from the ever-persistent-but-nasty ivy vines and blackberry canes.

Last year came the “breaking point,” in that the nice cedar showed signs of drought from Seattle’s more-and-more dry summer climate – ugly brown spots, branches, and needles in its green sheathing.  If I didn’t want to lose the ceder, my organic-fertilizer-service told me, I needed to give it at least an inch of water per month during the summer, even though it is mature.

Sigh.  Reluctantly but with determination, I dragged the hose out to the end of the street, put the sprinkler on at the base of the tree last July, and I saw that my ferns and Oregon grape were still there, although looking a bit beat-up.  Well, I thought, at least this way I’ll get more water on those plantings and maybe they’ll strengthen up.

But.  Mostly what happened was that the nettles advanced even further up the ravine hillside, and thready choking morning glory suddenly sprang up, winding its encircling stems around the existing native shrubs, snowberry and Oregon grape, encouraged by the water, apparently.  Downhearted, I pulled the morning glory (avoiding the nettle stalks), and at the end of the summer I determined that this year I’d get some native plants over the winter (bare-root, low-cost, from our local extension service) and do a much more thorough planting to reclaim the area.

Those were my intentions last fall when I put in the order for the native plants.  Fast-forward to last weekend when the plant pick-up date came around.  Here we were, in 30- to 40-degree weather, some snow flurries still, and the idea of planting the dozen or so plants I’d bought seemed very unappealing indeed.  But the reality is, you have to put them in within a day or two of pickup, or they suffer terribly and their chance of thriving is greatly diminished.

I have to tell you, I didn’t feel like going out and first, clearing the area of on-ground detritus and leftover invasive vines and stalks, and then digging up holes in the root-seized dirt under the cedar tree.  Ugh.  I’d rather . . . bake cookies, watch a favorite movie, go for a run, work crossword puzzles in the warm kitchen, write a letter to a friend . . . but those plants weren’t going to put themselves in the ground.  (How I wished for a magic wand to whisk them, Mary-Poppins-like, into the ground, and water them in to boot!)

Still.  I would set aside an hour and see how far I got.  That’s what I told myself.

So, I got organized, brought out the tools and wheelbarrow and extra planting soil, went to the spot and took a look.  What a mess.  All the fall leaves, dead twigs, an old water-soaking hose (unused), sprigs of baby nettles, tendrils of ivy vines coming up over the edge of the ravine . . . what a mess.  Sigh.  Nevertheless, I started to rake the ground in little places around the plants I wanted to keep, and guess what?  – it started to look a bit better.  Pulling up the nettle shoots, peeling back the ivy to the rim of the ravine, it started to look even better.  Okay.  Those five Oregon grape I planted last fall from a friend’s surplus still looked great, and the old ferns and tall Oregon grape I’d planted 3-4 years ago were looking pretty hardy, if a bit beaten-up (broken fronds, etc.).

An hour went by.  Two hours went by.  I gathered a large pile of sticks and broken-off branches, which I made into a little thicket at the front of the site – intended to signal would-be human trespassers that this was a planting under rehabilitation.  (I also have posted signs on nearby trees asking people to respect the habitat restoration, since sometimes pedestrians think they can get into the nearby city park this way – it’s a strict drop-off and technically private property, but they try it anyway.). I planted 20 salal and Oregon grape plugs, added some potting soil to the uncomposted earth, watered it in, and . . . voilá!  It’s starting to look quite nice.

What am I writing all this today on my blog?  Thinking of how reluctant I was to even tackle this project yesterday, I remembered that, for all my desire to do something else, once I got started it felt really fulfilling.  I gained a lot of energy from seeing the improvement.  And, it reminded me of the times I just DON’T feel like writing.

This space has been neglected for years.  And years.  A few stabs at trying to improve it, but not regular attention, no sustained caregiving has been done.  And, not surprisingly, nothing beautiful happened there.  But like my writing, if I buckle down and give it attention, if I take care of it, and if I just get started, I enjoy it and feel fulfilled by the result.  And . . .  something lovely happens.  After all, I started out thinking I would spend an hour on the planting yesterday, and 3 hours later, I came to a point where I was ready to call it a day.  The time flew by.

What does all this say to me?  So many times I hesitate instead of starting my writing.  I think, oh, I’d rather do something else.  Something in me feels like it’s too hard, that nothing will come out of it, that I’d prefer to do something more fun, etc.  Just like this planting.  But now I can remind myself, I can whisper:  If you just get started, something wonderful will happen.  Give it an hour.  Once you get started you’ll feel much better, you’ll probably enjoy it!

How about you?  What are you reluctant to do?  Do you have tasks that you wish could be done by magic?  How do you feel when you start to write?

Aside:  a cat story that I wrote at my retreat last week

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Cats have it made, she thought.  Sleep all day, get up to eat and then sleep again.  Look adorable all day long.  It wasn’t as hard as she thought to use Crispr for gene editing.  When she woke up and saw herself turning into a cat, calico with green eyes, she immediately leaped around the room and started to lick her fur clean.

I wrote this story as an exercise to write a 55-word tale.  It’s hard to write a story that short!  But inspired by cats and my friend and fellow blogger Luanne’s adventures with her cats, I wrote this fun story about turning into a cat via the new gene editing tool CRISPR.  Luanne has the most amazing cats and cat adventures, as well as writing wonderful poetry and stories about her life.  My story reminded me of Luanne’s work!

And, wouldn’t it be fun to be a cat – just for a day?

Thanks for visiting!

19 thoughts on “What you see when you are at home

  1. This post spoke to me on quite a few levels, Theresa. But I’ll get to that in a bit. That is wonderful that you tried something different – cleaning up a patch of nature just because you could. You didn’t have to do it and the plants could be fighting and then all come down together and stand up no more, but you did it. Funny how sometimes we get motivated once we get going. Sometimes the more we do something, the more empowered we feel, the more we feel we have potential but more importantly, we feel like we can make a difference.

    For me, I always find it hard to start something and it’s usually something I really like, like writing and in particular writing my book. Things such a like work, cooking and walking I’ve taken up over the years withouht too much hesitation. But when it comes to writing a blog post and writing my book especially, I get stuck to start. Not sure how to explain it, but I guess I am stuck to start for fear that I will disappoint myself. Often when I start to write, it feels like a chore. But the more I stick with it, the more I feel like I meant to write and then all of a sudden the words and story will all click.

    That said, not every writing session goes like this for me. Just like your intentions to tidy up last fall, sometimes you just can’t get going. Sometimes you really have to be in the mood or have nothing else bothering you when you want to get something done – that is no distraction around.

    On tasks that can be done by magic, maybe household chores and having a full fridge. Then again, the learning and fun comes from actually doing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What this made me think of (the gardening bit) was that feeling when I turn on my Lightroom catalog and it is so huge, I always have a lot of photos waiting to be edited, despite the amount of time that I do take to keep up. For me, that feeling can be a bit overwhelming. So, in an attempt to keep that feeling and it’s resulting non-productivity, I have on my calendar what I am specifically opening Lightroom for, like what I intend to work on in that time. It’s ok if I stray, but honestly having a “set” task helps me.
    I struggled a bit with the story. So hard to write in so few words. I felt like I read it but then had to read your explanation and then read it again to understand it. I guess I just didn’t connect with it for some reason?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! I like the way you bring intention into your Lightroom work, so as not to get drawn into more than you want to. Really great. And, thank you for letting me know about the story. It kind of whooshes by, doesn’t it? And maybe a bit more detail would help the reader. Thank you, Amy! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do still have that “return to your intent” post it note hung here at my desk 🙂
        I hesitated about the critque of the story, because obviously it is going to be short. I just think that kind of exercise would be very difficult.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So great you’re still coming back to “intent,” Amy! Thank you for the reminder!

        I wanted to let you know, it was super-helpful to hear you found the story a bit inexplicable. That really helped me. Don’t hesitate in future, it’s a gift to me to hear that it was challenging! 🙂 On a related note, I read a longer piece of my work last night at our regular Open Mic reading here in Seattle, and it was a piece I’d put away a few months ago after it had fizzled out. I dusted it off for the reading and took out the last part that was more “fizzled,” and when I read it to the audience, the response really helped me understand what parts of it were more engaging and which parts not as much, etc. So helpful to get feedback! Especially very understanding and respectful feedback as yours. 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s kind of what I went with, I figured you’d understand that I did mean it in a helpful, constructive way. Of course respectful too, I think writing is hard and an art, so I can appreciate that it would be something you work at.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So much of energy and positivity in this post Theresa! I am so impressed and a bit envious and guilty for not going for my evening walk just because I am slightly under-weather 😦 I loved how you linked it to writing and so rightly too. I hope you will take periodic photos of your untiring efforts and post pictures – would love to see the metamorphosis 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, Teresa, I admire your motivation and hard work to take care of that spot with joint ownership. I have many piles of things in my house right now waiting for my energy to take care of them.
    I can be very organized.Since I have limited energy, I do the necessity perfectly, and leave other thing waiting…!

    Liked by 1 person

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