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Planting the Memorial Maple

Sunday, August 25, 2019

I've been mowing a great wide boulevard out to Bill's resting place since late April. I want to make it easy and inviting for us to get there. Bill didn't mow much in the last couple of years, and the shining sumac has taken over. If the meadow is going to have to be three years overgrown for awhile, at least the central path will be navigable.

The coneflowers and liatris I planted on his grave burst into joyous bloom in mid-July. It was fantastic. I had simply taken the liatris from my north bed, where it was getting too much shade, thanks to my now-huge liberated bonsai Japanese maple! The liatris never missed a beat, and took off. Prairie plants are like that. They're deep-rooted, willing to wait for their window.  (We should all aspire to be more like prairie plants.)

Aged cow manure mixed into the grave's topsoil didn't hurt. If you're going to bloom, you have to eat!

I visit Bill's grave in all weather, at all times and in all light conditions, but this dewy July 25 morning was the best of them all. Native plantings don't get much better than this. There's an understory of showy (pink) Missouri primrose that's going to be fantastic next spring.

Curtis, of course, always accompanies me. We "go see Daddy." Man, Bill loved this dog. And Curtis understands the import of this spot. He was there for the burial, led the funeral procession out, walking slowly so as not to outpace Elsa, all of his own accord. Someday I may be able to write about that, but probably not anytime soon. It was something to witness.

So now fast-forward to August 19, and the flowers have faded, though they're still trying to bloom a bit. It's time to plant the Memorial Maple. The Bonsai-no-more. It's the last day I can do it and have both kids here for the ceremony. Liam leaves at 1 pm.

I'm blown away by the beauty of the meadow on this fine hot morning. And I decide to put off having it mowed until everything's done blooming. Heck with it. So what if it's bare over the winter; I cannot stand to mow these wildflowers down in full bloom. I've never seen Joe-Pye weed in the meadow before. Amazing things happen when you let meadows go. And then not-amazing things happen, like losing the meadow to a steadily growing over-your-head sumac forest. That I don't want. Hence the mowing plans. But not now. Not now. Phoebe pleaded with me, like Snow White and the forester, not to fell the meadow, and I heard her. Its beauty took me away. (It was Snow White, wasn't it? Who was the girl in the fairy tale who begged the forester not to cut the trees?)

I've gotten up super early to dig the bonsai hole, before the blazing sun glares over the pines.  I'm grateful for this sandy loam, that presents nary a rock to my poacher's spade. Too well do I remember trying to plant trees or anything in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Good luck digging a big hole all by yourself. Here in Ohio, it's possible without hiring help or deploying TNT. It isn't all that hard.

I finish digging the hole, and I decide to dig out some poison ivy that keeps coming up at the head of Bill's little plot. "No poison ivy on Bill!" I growl. (I now have gigantic crazy itchy blisters between my fingers thanks to that little moment). I send the spade in and turn up the earth.

 And under the clod I turn up there is Something. I freak allll the way out.

 How perfect is it, that a box turtle has laid her eggs right over Bill's head? How amazing is it, that this nest, unlike all the others I've found dug out along my Boulevard of Broken Dreams, has somehow survived the skunks and the coons? 

Here's a hen box turtle starting a nest on the Boulevard in the first week of June. Yep, that's Curtis, bombing in more ways than one. Almost all of the nests I saw being dug along the Boulevard were predated by skunks and coons within a few nights. I tried so hard to find them and cage them before it happened, but I couldn't do it. Every time I thought I had one, it turned out to be a partial attempt. I pray some made it through.

There are four eggs on Bill's grave. I find one in the tailings and return it to its depression, hoping I haven't ruined it.How incredible that my spade has not harmed these precious, mostly-incubated eggs? It is perfection. I was meant to find this nest, to protect it. More on that later. We have a tree to plant.

Curtis leads the processional again, with all due gravitas. Liam has taken time from packing his last items for his return later this day to West Virginia University, to be my mule, hauling the tree, some cow manure, and 15 gallons of water out to the gravesite. Phoebe brings up the rear. We are making our own ritual.

 Some great Curtis Loew side-eye in this shot if you click on it.

First, we mix manure and potting soil with the loam I've dug out, and make a nice bed for the tree. Liam waters it until it's swimmy.

We lower the tree into the hole, face it the best way, and fill around it with a mix of manure, potting soil and native loam. Then we drown it with 5 gallons of water. 


Curtis gives Phoebe a kiss as she sits by the newly-planted tree. It doesn't look nearly so tall now that it's out with its feet in the big meadow. 
My idea was to have a shady place to sit when we visit Bill. It will happen. I will be old by then, but it will happen. It's mostly for the kids.

Curtis isn't a mad dog, nor is he an Englishman. 

He ain't sitting in the noonday sun. He won't be called out of the shade, either, not even for a photo. That's a cur for you. They have their own minds, are dripping with common sense. We laugh at how different he is from Chet, at how flagrantly self-centered Curtis can be. Of course, we love him for his  fiercely independent mind. We love everything about this dog.

I am grateful to have had this beautiful summer with both my kids. It has been a gift beyond measure to know they are asleep in their own beds right across the hall, that they're being nourished by the food I have grown and cooked for them, that my girl can cut the flowers I planted for her and prowl the milkweed that's grown for her. That we can go out and squeeze the kiwis and pick the golden raspberries and tuberoses every day. These are the things that matter. It seems so simple, but it's not anymore. It is everything. I know there will come a time, perhaps next summer, when neither of them will come home, and that is as it should be. We will all adjust, because adjusting is our only option, and it will continue to be good.

 The little ceremony we made, of planting this venerable tree nearly twice their age, by their father's grave, to honor him and remember him, is everything, too. Ceremony, ritual, tradition: we don't need to rely on society's customs. As a family, we make our own, doing what feels right and salutary to us, what fits. We're a small family now, but we are all the tighter for it.

Bill was, I think, too big for his pot here on earth.  Certainly one of the most expansive people I've known. Maybe he needed to be set free, to another life we can only guess about. And the little tree, 37 years in a pot, is sending feeder roots out as I write, exploring the good Ohio loam
and waiting for the rain.


You always manage to bring me to tears, Julie. And it’s easy to do these days, because this has been a season of loss for me. Thanks to you, and Bill, for sharing with us how you’ve navigated through the heartbreak and sadness and recovery of your loss.


Thank you for sharing this❤️❤️

Such a powerful post... such a POWERFUL post... SUCH A POWERFUL, POWERFUL POST!!

OK, I'm crying. This was so beautiful. Love and peace to you and Phoebe and Liam as you continue to find your way through this first year after Bill's death.

Along with everyone else, I'm struggling to find the keyboard through the mist in my eyes. And as Andi said of herself, it's a season of loss for me too. In my case, I'm losing a husband in slow motion to Alzheimer's, not in fast forward through pancreatic cancer. But feeling for you and yours in your season of loss is helping me get through mine. Peace be with you all.

Beyond beautiful. These actions, this writing, this place, this family. Sending hugs and love.

Whoa. You live your life as a work of art.

No wonder Bill fell in love with you and married you. Such a fitting tribute. I didn't know Bill, and only "know" you via your books, blogs and photos on FB. But, this tribute speaks so deeply and movingly that Bill could not have had a better legacy--two accomplished children, a dog who loved him, and a wife who knows how to let go and remember at the same time.

I love all the comments; I treasure this post. You share so many kinds of beauty; you and your kids are beautiful people. (And I don't mean that in the superficial, "Hollywood" way.)

I love your thoughtfulness and forethought. The rest of the world needs to catch up to your family. Thanks for being a part of my life for over 20 years as an inspiration and beacon of hope!

Oh (wo)man you’ve got another book in the wings, biding time. This one got me. Maybe because I know that meadow and that Joe Pye weed and those August days. And that incredible human who was indeed too big for the pot. (Not to mention our quiet solidarity as the only coffee drinkers at the Iron Weed Festival)

Powerful story.

So grateful to you and your children for allowing us to be a part of your lives. Knowing you all three exist makes me hopeful again. Bill probably didn't give much thought to what his grave would be like and who would take care of it, but how you are doing that reflects beauty on him and you. Thank you for letting us see this post.

No words. ❤️

and so it goes. I so enjoy this wee window into your days. ❤

Oh ... So good, every morsel.
I slowed myself and savored each paragraph...each sentence...
Thank you for letting us in.

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I deleted my comment because I mistakenly thought you planted the tree today. Thank you for sharing this moving and lovely post with us. It is so right to set the bonsai free next to him just as he was set free last spring.

Extremely poignant! I am reminded on my wonderful father-in-law and lover of bonsai. He understood the power of commitment and care and ritual. An Admiral and gentle soul. Julie, you have the gift of re-membering the important moments and the ability to save them.

@A.Marie, I lost my mom to dementia. I know your pain, the slow creeping everyday loss. What pain don't we know, now? It is all too familiar. I'm sorry. @Andi, my heart is with you, too. Hoping for a season of gain coming soon for us all. @NCMountainwoman, that's cool that you remembered he died on March 25. Five months. Hard to believe. Thank you, everyone.

Perfect, my love. So glad both Phoebe and Liam could be there. All as it should be.
And turtle eggs, too. Mother nature's sons, and daughters.
Singing for you, sending love.

Beautiful story, Julie. Curtis seems to know how to 'read the room' and the appropriate way to react. Such a wise doggie.
We don't mow our fields right now either. Everything is going to seed (coneflowers, blazing star, rattlesnake master, etc.). We hate the prolific sumac too, but we usually wait until early spring then mow it. During the winter months, the dead plants provide great cover for quail and other wildlife from the aerial (and ground) predators.
I love the way your family has chosen your own path, your own way of processing your grief and honoring Bill. The turtle eggs, the coneflowers and the prairie blazing star...absolutely perfect.

I could only read a little at a time because I was teary eyed too. You find the most beautiful words to tell your stories. Thank you for sharing with us.

My heart melts for you and yours. I'm a bit unconventional myself. I have three grands who lost their mom when they were 5, 7 and 10. Her ashes are on a local mountain called Silver Star. She always wore a star necklace and loved alpine flowers. Even when we can't go up, we can see the summit. You gotta do what feels okay even when there is no okay to be had. I've watched your blogs for years and watched your children grow. I admire your strength and your inner wisdom. I'm thinking of you frequently and sending my energy.

Such a beautiful post and lovely pictures.

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