The sun is setting early again, rising late like a teenager. It happens every year, of course, and I’m reminded of my own awareness of time. Just like the shadows stretch and change as the sun takes a lower path, the trees that create the shadows are stretching, too, taller this year than last. Watching these shadows this last year, I begged that I, too, would be changed. This world of ours moves not in a circle, but in an ellipse, and I didn’t want to be spinning endlessly anymore.

I couldn’t have known last September, or even in January when I choose my word for the year, what it was that I was asking of myself. I did not anticipate the things that would force change in my life, the things that would teach meaning. I did not know then the ways that I would seek out patterns out from seeming disorder, or the ways that I would choose wild adventure in the face of security. I could not have known the ways that my path was indeed being stretched beyond a circle. I did not fathom the shadows, the changing light, the shifting landscape.

I look at the poster in Griffin’s room now, the same one that inspired my word “Learn.” It is a Nikki McClure print, mostly black and white, of peas growing all tangeldy towards the sky.  They are held up, woven through twine, as they stretch up.  The print is called “Learn.” Learn.  The pattern here is that those evenly spaced peas, with their curly-cue tendrils and delicate blooms, need to be trained up.  They need to be supported, held in place, or else their sprawl would rot them into the ground, unable to get the sun, the air, the space that they need to grow into the fullest truth of what they are as peas.

What I know now, though, is that those peas are aggressive survivors. Vines have a life of their own, and they stake their claim on most anything that they make contact with. They wrap around in tight little curls, and it’s hard to tell where one tendril begins and another ends. It can be difficult to discern one plant from another.

The cucumbers in our backyard garden were like this: aggressive and productive. They reached out and wrapped around anything they touched. Yes, I had given them a general suggestion of support, an encouragement to grow where I wanted them to grow. But ultimately, they sought their own wild path. It was tangled, and involved almost every corner of the garden. Cleaning out the beds this past weekend, I was still surprised to find cucumbers dangling from vines that I didn’t even know existed. Those cucumbers didn’t need to be trained up. They could not be contained.

Maybe it’s not beautiful. Maybe it’s not the pattern that I was hoping to find, the neatly strung peas supported with twine, held in place, finding the space that they needed to grow into the fullest truth of what they are as peas.

There was the day a few weeks ago that I set about extricating a hydrangea bush from an aggressive vine. We had neglected this bush for years, and why I chose now to deal with it, I’m not sure, but there I was. Soon, I was buried deep in the green and brown shade of these plants, trying to parse out one from the other. It was muggy out, and soon the sweat was dripping into my eyes, down my neck. The work was hard. It was difficult to find the beginning of the vines, difficult to distinguish what was what. The vines were insidious and strong. This bush had been choked off from air and sunlight and I had little hopes for what would remain. When I eventually followed one vine around long enough to find a root, I used my weight to pull and dig to get it out. Sometimes, cutting one strategic piece would release a long tangled clump of green and brown. It was hard work, and I kept working.

This year it has been hard to know when to be a pea, allowing myself to lock on to supports and aim to reach benchmarks with predictability, and when to be a cucumber, full of life-force and tangled fruitfulness. It’s harder than I thought to know what to prune, to trim out and cut back, and what to allow to blossom. Can I even distinguish one plant from another? How can I tell which one is being choked out and which one needs to be pulled?

I found that hydrangea bush. It was still there, hidden under the cover of those aggressive vines. And it still had life in it. It wasn’t dead at all.



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