Yesterday my uncle stopped by to plant some yew shrubs in the front yard. He’s an avid gardener and was happy to gift us these shrubs and plant them in our ever so slowly developing garden.
When I got home from a long work commute and day, I was drained and moving slowly. He was already busy with a shovel digging holes and bringing the garden to life. I asked him how I could help and he was pretty set on taking care of it on his own. I offered him food and drink, music, and quiet company, he politely declined everything except the water. This was the Filipino way, the way I make my parents proud, keep certain traditions alive, and demonstrate a genuine part of who I am; the offering and sharing of food to welcome people into your home (which to me is sacred), connect with them, and care for them.
I went inside the house to grab a cold bottled water. When I came back outside, I watched the dirt emerge from the ground with broken stones and curly roots. Bees buzzed around, siphoning pollen from the pink flowers and green perennials.
I recently began potting plants and noticed the cool feeling of soil between my fingers. Getting close to the earth, grounding myself in these natural elements, was calming. There’s something comforting about the thought of connecting to the earth in this way.
I lingered behind him and infringed on what seemed to be his “me time.” He picked up on my desire to be outside and learn more about this process. I took an interest in a heavy steel bent crow bar, mostly because it looked like a crazy weapon, and was intrigued by the challenge of digging holes with it. This proved to be a difficult tool to use due its weight and awkward shape so I didn’t break much ground.
He gave me the task of watering the newly planted flowers and advised me to, “not drown them or fight them,” simply sprinkle them with water and help them grow. I envisioned the flowers blooming even bigger and the little shrubs filling out. I smiled at the thought of my daughter holding the giant green watering can and telling me how she’ll have flowers in her shop one day.
Then I thought about the dead and the living. My late uncle who passed away 17 years ago, my late grandparents, my parents, and my family. The way life is as fragile as these budding flowers, the way life is a means of planting, nurturing, and growing, that a lack of growth invites slow irreparable death. I thought about how often I mourn for those who have passed and still go about not appreciating those who are still living as much as I could. I thought about the ways I mourn for those who are still living, alive in my life yet our connection wavers in an eternal hospice. I visit and revisit these living ghosts and am haunted by my desires for things to improve between us; I’m often left in a perpetual cycle of disappointment and reinforcement of the cliché that people never change.
As I watered the flowers and tiny shrubs, a robin flew in and out of my yard. Its chest, a deep burnt sienna, and its eyes, beady and still bright. I wondered if that was my grandmother coming for a visit. She loved to garden in the summer and would yield giant ampalaya (bitter melon) in her garden yearly. I chuckled that my daughter told me she came up with the name Robin for that bird.
When I was done watering, my uncle’s eyebrows raised and asked if I “really wanted to work.” I accepted the challenge and he walked to his car and brought out a giant pair of shears, which I learned is actually called a Titanium Lopper. He said he was going to use the Lopper to trim the branches but that I could do it if I was up for it. So he held the giant handles in one hand and with the other pointed up, he directed, “cut anything above your head that you can reach.” He cut a couple of branches as a demo, I watched the branches fall swiftly to the ground, and then he gave them to me.
My hands gripped the rubber handles tightly and I opened the Lopper to cut a branch. “Am I doing this right?” I asked insecurely. “You’re the Master Gardener.”
“Yes! There’s no right way to cut them. Just cut at the base and you might have to twist and turn to make sure it severs. You call me the Master Gardener but there isn’t a right or wrong way. You’re strong, you can do it.”
I placed the blade at the base of another branch and cut. I felt sad for this tree, thanked it for its shade and abundance, then snipped, feeling slightly reassured that it would grow back tenfold. I looked up, “Wow there is something extremely gratifying about this!” He smiles, “Tell me about it.” My husband stepped outside after preparing dinner to find me holding the Lopper in the air like a trophy.
The branches, a canopy of bright green and coarse brown bark, fluttered above my head. I watched the setting sun flicker through the dancing leaves and felt the chaos from the week drift away into a pile of severed branches.