Monday, May 10, 2004

Gardening is like graffiti. You go out into a world you didn't make and try to leave a mark of some kind, hopefully a nice one, one which portrays something about yourself. I think the people who go out and with cans of spray paint "tagging" box cars and the like are doing much the same thing. I use violets and salvia to make a pattern of color and form and some kid zapping the side of a train is making a swirling image of colors and form also. An element of movement adds to the fun of tagging, but my flower beds are always changing in some ways, so I have some temporal elements to contend with as well. I suppose taggers are hoping someone will see their logo and enjoy it, whereas I have mostly abandoned the idea that any of my friends are going to wander over and see my yard work. Everybody who enjoys flowers and plants is busy working on their own expressions.

I've been dumping woodchips in a rough diagonal line from the side of the drive to the garden gate. Along the line of chips I have been planting mints and daylillies, violets and sunflowers. As you walk up the path you come under a wooden arch that marks the beginning of the plantings. The lilac is small now but someday it may be towering over the archway and providing some shade for the clematis on the other side. I've been planting a lot of blues and purples and shades of pinks, but here and there I add a sudden yellow.

One of the problems has been the havoc it raises with my hands. I cut myself, the fingertips get dried and cracked, and my poor nails, usually bitten and short have developed real length to enable the opening of pocket knives and plastic bags. I have a bottle of oil made from sunflowers and comfrey plants to help heal the cracks in my thumbs, which look like they could use a trip to the ER for some stitches.

A few years ago I had this vision of the yard as a series of flower beds and wandering walkways. I saw my boy walking along using a cane to get to the garden. It was such a sweet vision that I decided to do my part to see it happen. Jon will have to take care of the rest and who knows but that the figure in my sight heading for the garden might not have been me in some unknown future? Jon won't be walking for several years if at all.... They never used splints on his feet, an early concern of mine. They did finally put splints on his hands, but they rarely use them and so someday, should he emerge from his hiding place, they will have to cut and lengthen the tendons in his wrists to enable his hands to open from the claw-like condition they are currently in. The feet have dropped pretty badly and they will need surgery as well. "Dropping" means they are pointed down due to the tendons shrinking from lack of use. He won't be able to even use them to help drag himself from his chair to the bed. They won't support any weight.

If they had followed the schedule for the hand splints Jon would have a chance to paint or even hold a pen for writing before his voice comes back. The splints are custom fitted to his hands, but without using them, the hands continue to shrink and curl and now the splints are very hard to get on him, if you can find them. Sometimes the aides just toss them somewhere, sometimes they get lost in the dirty clothes or separated in the closet or on the floor. Whatever the reason, not using them will cost my son years of therapy and months of pain. The reason they don't get used is that no one there thinks Jon will need hands again.

Jon used to sculpt wood. He would take manzanita wood and carve interesting shapes and then make a box out of the block. Organic curves and lines formed the outside, like tendons or veins and the lids often were spring loaded so you could flip them up and dig out what was inside. Most folks probably stored their pot in these boxes and Jon could trade them for other trinkets and music. Jon was also a chef, making wonderful meals in hamburger joints or 4 star restaurants. He showed me how to use the knives correctly and could turn an average meal into a work of art, rearranging the veggies and adding a sprig of color...."Presentation, dad, it's all about presentation!"

Jon liked to work on old cars, old vans like the 1960 VW van that folded around him and threw him out of the windshield. With twisted hands and folded feet Jon will not be working on cars, or meals, or boxes. His personal presentation is floppy, drooling, cyborg-like with tubes and props and a faint inhuman odor, the kind of presentation that makes little kids afraid and hide behind their mother. People think he's stupid because he drools and can't hold his head up. He feels stupid for the same reason. He looks down and sees those hands which used to be so strong and talented, those feet that hiked in Alaska and paddled in Arizona hot springs.

When I dig my flowerbeds and plant my salvias and daylillies, I think about Jon wheeling or stumbling or walking through my flowers, stopping to look, to smell, to taste. I think about how someday when I am dead perhaps my children, my daughter, my son will point out some configuration or visual pun I left behind. Maybe Jess will hand a root beer mint to a small child and watch their eyes grow round as the flavor hits home. Maybe Jon will wonder as he looks at the blues and pinks if his father was trying to forget his problems, or trying to leave something behind when he worked with cracked fingers and dried hands in the walkways and beds in the back yard.

I was thinking of you and Jess, Jon. I was thinking about Jessie living here someday, maybe even with you in some back room, playing with your carving tools or listening to your music. Maybe Jess has friends who come and eat veggie barbecues at a table I made and maybe her brother sits along with her as they talk about those terrible days before he rose and walked again. Maybe he doesn't recall the dark times when we doubted. Maybe they both are looking ahead to longer days and more yellows and reds in the flowers I left behind. Sometimes the flowers take root and grow more than even I expected, lasting longer and being stronger. Sometimes they shrink and wither and die. We never give up, we continue to plant and we wait in the winter and spring to see what summer has to offer.

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