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  • John R

Don’t tell Deb. But I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. Not completely. I couldn’t get rid of all the bearded iris.

It’s not that she didn’t have some good reasons for wanting to clear out the irises. After all, they’d pretty much taken over the front garden. In so doing, they overwhelmed a number of very comely flowers, namely those yellowish things that I really like and those white things that I’m particularly fond of.

It all happened incrementally over the years. With subtle determination, our grouping of bearded iris had spread out in all directions, bully other living things with their muscular tubers and lording their 3-foot tall stalks and shaggy flowers over all. In the process, they sabotaged the half-inch irrigation tubing, tilted stepping stones to dangerous states of incline, and forbade passage to various parts of the garden.


It's probable that a more attentive gardener would have noticed the colonization long before I did. Unfortunately, that was not the case. To my sensibilities, the white and yellow flowers simply disappeared overnight. Poof! and What the F? Where did we get all these bearded irises?


But there they were, swaths of blue and magenta hovering over green, saber-like leaves, and my betrothed did not care for them at all. In some ways, I see her point. They’re a bit ruthless and the blossoms do have a carnivorous, Audrey Jr. appearance, especially when you peer directly down their throats.

See what I mean?

The other side of the shovel is, of course, that the irises can be quite fetching. Their generous blossoms made the garden look plentiful if not exactly well-tended, and truly anything that grows of its own free will and with minimum care at Schiddygarden is always a big plus.


Anyway, Deb proclaimed them an unruly menace and was determined to replace them with something more civilized and demure. And I—with some misgivings—agreed.


But I couldn’t. When the ground turned soft in the early winter, I spaded up their colony and turned them upside down. I knelt by the tubby tubers and admired their fat flesh, glistening with vitality. They couldn’t help being healthy, nor could they help being rare survivors of nutrient-bereft soil. So I gently placed chunks of them in a wheelbarrow and transported them to far-flung locations around our property.

Okay, “far-flung” is rather far-fetched, given the diminutive size of our yard. Nevertheless, I secreted a few here and a few there, mulching them generously with leaves as much for camouflage as for winter protection.


There they will be, taking root in new locations, soon to be dotting the spring with their wily blossoms and surveying their immediate surroundings for new territories to conquer. Being a bit wiser to their botanical aspirations, I suppose I’ll eventually have to rein them in. But for the foreseeable future, they’re yours and my little secret.

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  • John R

December. Of the late-year months, it is November’s more glamorous, more celebratory twin. Flower beds are mulched; festive snows are coming. A new year is on the horizon.


December. A time of reckoning. Which things went well this past year? The newly planted Japonica. Poblano peppers. Butter lettuce.


And things of a more personal nature.


Which things did not go well? Garlic. Jalapenos. The newly planted lilies.


And things of a more personal nature.


December. The ground is wet, silent, tired from its year of trying. Now it is sheltering, gathering strength for the next season of growth. Juncos hop and flutter amid damp leaves looking for seeds of coneflowers and asters. Robins sample the berries of the pyracantha and mountain ash. The still cold air holds the sheet music for a discordant symphony of chirps and trills.


I went fly fishing the other day. Standing thigh-deep in the chilled insistence of the Rogue River, bundled with layers of clothing. Mists eased along the surface. Trout leapt out of the water as they chased mayfly nymphs. A beaver appeared along the far shore, its sleek brown head periscoped just above the surface. Two bald eagles fussed and cried in the top of a Douglas-fir. Here and there on the rocky bottom of the clear river, undulating slowly in the current, were the bones of salmon. They had spawned and died, their flesh now sustenance for crayfish and caddisflies.


December. Put your bare hand into the swiftly moving water. What you touch in the Present is already the Past. What the Future brings is upstream, yet to find its way to you.


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  • John R

I broke my leg. Yeah, I know. Boo-hoo. Last year you broke your thumb just one week before the annual Fourth of July accordion competition at the county fair, so you too had trauma but yours was worse. Everybody’s got a story, and when you crutch around with a leg cast you get an earful of everybody else’s tales of historic woes.

This is mine.

It happened during the summer, just as the plants were getting all sparky and muscular, with broad, sun-soaked leaves, hardy stems, and happy early-season blooms. The weather was sublime. I was out daily doinking around in the beds and shrubs, getting after weeds, spreading mulch, cleaning out debris, whispering endearments to tender shoots. For Schiddygarden, things were looking spiffy.

Then one day I went walking on a riverbank on the pretext of being a fly fisherman and I slipped on slick grass and my fibula went snap! In a heartbeat I was flat on my back staring up at the sky thinking, Hey God, WTF? as a nauseating pain started to take hold. What a way to ruin a decent morning.

Morning schmorning. It took a big chunk out of my entire summer. Couldn’t bike, hike, play pickleball, or drive a car, and gardening was restricted to holding a hose and watering the one little area I could manage to reach while standing on one leg. On the bright side, I wasn’t able to dig in the dirt and as a result my fingernails had never been cleaner.

Sure, I know. Buck up. Do the PT. Stop asking Deb to Please pull the horseweed out by the front fence and stake the pepper plants and remember to mow the lawn before noon. And maybe while you’re at it water the hostas and oh yeah hand me the pretzels. Please.

But after a generous helping of self-pity (and not wanting to exhaust Deb’s supply of patience), I began to look for some fresh perspectives. Nothing earth-shattering—not that I’m capable—but what became apparent as I sat outside (with my leg propped up to facilitate edema-draining) were ordinary, everyday vignettes that were curiously satisfying.

Perhaps it’s not what we see, but how we look.

First, apologies. No doubt these images would have been more compelling if taken by a photographer of talent and skill. Sadly, that was not the case.

It doesn't get more mundane than this, does it? In the moment, though, as I sat on the patio searching for a silver lining, there was this slice of sky with its wispy clouds and happy branches framed by a roofline and the edge of a patio umbrella. This view pulled me way out of the doldrums.

I looked over and this squirrel was hanging out on a branch sound asleep. By the time I took the lens cap off and turned on the camera and attempted to get everything in focus he (she?) popped awake and gave me the stink eye as if to say, Wadda you lookin’ at? Then she (he?) took off. It wasn’t exactly viewing lions on the Serengeti, but that afternoon, it was close enough.

This is definitely an Eye of the Beholder perspective, but amidst the tangle at the back of our property, our violet crepe myrtle, usually obscured from view (bad planning there) made a noble attempt to make itself known. It's such a feel-good plant that I hobbled over via crutches to say Howdy! and grab a one-handed shot.

From the low angle of sunlight on these coleus you can probably tell this photo was taken during happy hour, can't you? Cheers!

Now four months after The Break and with autumn settling in, the smoke tree is showing off and I'm getting ready for pruning, planting garlic, and being upright and crutchless. Sometimes the way forward just takes time, physical therapy, and keeping an eye out for the bright side. It's often right over there.

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