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.