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Making a Garden in the Woods

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In January 2011, my father-in-law, Bill Thompson Jr., co-founder with Elsa Thompson of Bird Watcher's Digest, jazz pianist, sometime college vice president, and immediate past director of the Marietta Community Foundation, passed away. We miss him terribly.

Before a day had passed, he was resting out in our orchard, nothing fancy, no chemicals, no polished wood or chrome involved...just gone to earth here in a place he loved.  

Chet can't tell it's a garden, the shape it's in right now. Get over here!

It's a good little walk from the house, out in our overgrown orchard which is no longer an orchard at all, just rows of trees and vines and redbud, ringing with the songs of blue-winged, hooded and Kentucky warblers, of ovenbirds and vireos and tanagers and bluebirds. 

The grass grows up and the weeds take over and I meant to do something about that. I wheeled out the longsuffering garden cart that my sister Barbara gave us in 1993 when we were married. Bill Jr. and I put it together on a long, hot, sometimes hilarious Saturday that I'll always treasure in my memory. When we were done and my Bill was coming up the driveway, Sumbitch climbed in the cart and acted simple and I wheeled him around the yard. 

This time, I was loading it up with gardening tools.

Last fall, Bill and I planted five purple coneflowers, knowing they'd like the place. On June 3, the first flowers were opening, and a great spangled fritillary kept visiting.

I looked down at what had been bare earth, and saw that I had a lot of work to do. Dewberries and Indian strawberries and grasses and honeysuckle and what have you had completely covered the mound.

I worked and worked and after about five hours I could see the soil again.

To weed such stuff in our clay/loam soils, you really have to lift the roots with a spade or trowel, so it's labor-intensive. It wore Chet Baker out completely.

You will notice little patches of Perlite-laced potting soil in the photo above. 

I decided to plant out this spring's crop of several hundred rosepink seedlings and let Nature take care of them for two years.  I also set out the finger-nail sized yearling plants, all dozen of them.

If you look vewy, vewy cwosewy you can see the itty bitty seedwings.

I doled them out in 27 little patches. Even as tiny as they were, they already had roots 2" long!

I watered them in and stood back to look. Better. Much better. If things went well and the stars aligned, the rosepink might be blooming by July 2013. Then what a sight it would be!

Chet Baker was so exhausted from the effort he slept most of the time, breaking to beg for bits of Clif bar, which he promptly buried.

I planted the royal catchfly plant at the head of the plot, where I hope it will get 6' tall, bearing dozens of red stars in midsummer. It should increase in beauty every year. These clayey loams are just what it likes.

Should it live to bloom and set seed you may be quite sure I will be gathering those tiny black jewels. Ha. I'm far from cowed by the two-year sucker of the Rosepink Project. Just getting going.

 I rested on the bench and gazed at my handiwork, but not for long. There were still plants to be set in.

The whole time I worked, I thought about Bill Jr., who also answered to Geepop for his grandkids and Sumbitch for his kids. I sang a few songs I knew he liked. I miss so many things about him, his laugh and his wisdom and his wicked sense of humor but oh, I miss his music, real jazz, piano jazz, melodic, strong, sensible and warm.

I thought long and hard about common burial practices in America today, and about what I feel is wrong about them. It doesn't seem right to me to have a loved one disappear in a burst of flame and come back in a can. It's not real. It doesn't give you a chance to absorb it all and most of all it doesn't give you a place where you can come and devote your thoughts and memories to that wonderful person.

This feels right, planting a garden, knowing he's right here. It's a great luxury to be able to do this, I know, to have enough land to be able to devote a little clearing to someone, and then maybe as the years go by, someone else and eventually to your own family and the little dogs, too.
It's the way they used to do it, and like so many other things, the old ways can be the best ways.

From a weedy clearing, a memorial garden is born. The act of working the soil and planting with intent made it so. It became a garden on June 4, and I mean to keep it one. The rosepink will come up and bloom or it won't, but I have a feeling it will, having been planted and tended with intent and love.

Rest in peace, Bill. We'll be around to visit.


I feel the same way. Cremation is fine, but I like the old cemeteries where I can visit and walk around and make stories about the people who are resting there. I like your garden for Bill Jr. How about a marker? Not that you need one now, but for the future.

Posted by Anonymous June 28, 2012 at 4:21 AM

You found the perfect words once again.

I love this. I wonder if it is possible where we live? I'll have to check. Cremation seems too abrupt, the big box/concrete enclosure, too costly and too preservative. To have a place to laugh and cry and remember close by, perfect.

Posted by Anonymous June 28, 2012 at 6:31 AM

Lovely all around. Nature has an amazingly efficient and clean housekeeping system, if we would just let her do her stuff. The thought of what happens inside those concrete boxes is horrifying when compared to the beauty of a natural return into the earth that you so perfectly described. Ditto to amy b's comment about the place. This post has me rethinking the instructions to my family for my big moment! Thank you.

Such a beautiful memorial garden. What a fragrantly wonderful way to remember someone loved so dearly. My father was cremated. It's an interesting thing, wondering what to do with ashes. We scattered them in Monterey Bay (where Roger's dad and now his mom were scattered). There is something very freeing about scattered ashes, especially into the ocean. I have tossed roses into the sea, I have put rose petals in rivers, always with the belief that any watercourse will take my offerings to my dad. It's all in the heart...

Nobody writes better memorials than you Julie... NObody.

Julie, thank you for sharing your "Making a Garden in the Woods." It sounds like it too will thrive under your care, and of course with Chet's oversight! I also was touched to read that your father-in-law was buried as simply as possible on your land: ashes to ashes. I too just want a shroud wrapped around me and put into the ground. Somewhere in Wisconsin.I hope you find many hours to sit on that bench visiting with GeePop. (My Dad was cremated, but his daughers each took some of his ashes and spread them at his favorite places, saving some for his burial at Black Hills National Cemetery--his last wish fulfilled.)

that would be "daughters."

Such a wonderful garden to go home to, Miss Julie... simply wonderful.

What a beautiful post, Julie. We all miss Bill. We all miss all those same things that you miss. We didn't get to see him often enough after the move from Pella. But, there was something about him being present in the world that made a person feel good. Tonight we are attending the visitation for Jay Vermeer and tomorrow morning, the funeral. I would like to think that Mom and Dad, Joy, Stan, Dutch and Jay, among others, are enjoying Bill's wit and music these days. Wonderful memories of such a remarkable man. One day will will come and visit Bill in your orchard. Love and hugs.

You're right, it doesn't seem right. My first experience with cremation was my mom's death 3 years ago. She went on a 3 month cross country trip, from TX and Mexico, to AK, RVing with my aunt and uncle the entire way. She got very sick on the trip and died in Alaska. No one had the $4000 it would have cost to have her brought home on a plane, so we had to choose cremation and bring her ashes back as carry on. The whole 3 weeks is such a blurry nightmare of a memory and I hate that it was our only choice.

Beautiful. Would that we all could be buried in a beautiful meadow.....

When my time comes something like this would be wonderful, not for me but for family.

I only met him a few times but he struck me as a very likeable man.

What a wonderful and moving post. I can imagine how you felt his presence as you worked. I cannot think of a better tribute. Or a more thoughtful one...for him, for you and Bill, and for the children.

Very nice. I think the growing "green burial " movement gives options for those without large acreage or flexible zoning.
The whole chemifuneral thing dates from necessity in the civil war and somehow it became viewed as normal.
It is not.

On, the flip side, I like cremation since it does not tie up any land. Mix my ashes with some chum and feed the pinfish.

Beautiful place for the body to rest. He will once again be able to hear his beloved birds.

Better yet, he would love that you can do so and hope to provide a place for future generations.

My dad was cremated and we left his ashes in the winter stream where he loved to trout fish, camp with generations of family and hunt for sapphires. It was a place where burial would not have been possible.

I myself have an aversion to being buried in a piece of furniture finer that I would purchase while I was alive. Too much information? I am sorry if it is.

A beautifully written piece that has obviously struck a cord with your readers.

Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us.

Kathy in Delray Beach

Posted by Anonymous June 30, 2012 at 8:12 AM

It would be nice to become a place where lovely flowers bloomed and butterflies visited. Just plant bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes over me and I'll pretend I am in Texas.

Posted by Anonymous June 30, 2012 at 10:41 AM

Lovely post, Julie. I kept thinking of Aldo Leopold's "Odyssey.

I'm visiting because Murr sent me your way and I'm glad she did. Your blog is fun and a visual treat. I'm a retired illustrator and I hope to see your watercolors sometime. I hope you'll visit me at Chubby Chatterbox where I focus on art, humor and nostalgia. If you come for a visit I hope you'll take a moment to press the Join button and I'll return the favor. Take care, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Chubby Chatterbox

Hey Julie! Indigo here, a newbie from Murr's blog. Sad to hear of your loss, but inspired by the chosen resting place; I think I'd rather be somewhere tranquil too. Anyway, heard about your Pod (blame Murr), and wanted to drop a few cents to help reinstate it; hope it's back on its feet soon! Indigo

Lovely tribute, Jules. Thank you for the words and the gardening love.

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