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
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?
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