The view from our new house was just fantastic. Looking north over the lake, you could see Okanagan Mountain park, watch the snow levels rise and fall with the changing seasons. The apple orchard below would bloom, leaf out, bear fruit, turn color and then turn into abstract patterns of bare branches .
Little songs would run on endless loops as I concentrated. It was a sort of fuzzy daydream state, where only vague thoughts of work or the future hovered at the periphery, kept at bay by my mantra of the day. “Doing the garden, pulling the weeks, who could ask for more?”
We were perched on the edge of a steep slope of undeveloped land which was part of the property, full of grasses and shrubs, with a few trees. The ridge continued west, behind a winery, where a sparse forest of Ponderosa pine and fir created a border between the grassland below and vineyard on the higher ground. Next to the house there was also a cultivated garden put in by the previous owners, with lots of plantings and some lawn. Each spring it was a surprise to see what grew.
Somehow it fell to me to do the gardening, novice that I was. Raking, mowing, cutting back the shrubs, weeding, snow shoveling, keeping it neat. These tasks, with their repetitive physical movements in the fresh air, became oddly calming. I would submit to the work, not hurrying, just steadily persevering. Little songs would run on endless loops as I concentrated. It was a sort of fuzzy daydream state, where only vague thoughts of work or the future hovered at the periphery, kept at bay by my mantra of the day. “Doing the garden, pulling the weeks, who could ask for more?”
Gradually I learned how the plants grew, what needed more vigorous pruning, when different flowers appeared. My philosophy was: if it grows and is happy, and I like it, let it be; if it doesn’t grow, it wasn’t meant to be; if I don’t like it, take it out and let the other things grow. I also learned that sometimes, that sweet little ground cover I let grow turned into sticky chickweed.
After a while, I turned my attention to the uncultivated slope, clearing out brush under the high deck where land had been disturbed from the house construction. Wearing work boots and carrying a big brown paper leaf bag, I worked my way ever further down the slope, pulling out knapweed and dalmation toadflax, cheat grass and scrawny weeds. The more distant from the house, the fewer invasive species, the richer the soil. In fact, what looked like scrubby grassland was a cornucopia of beautiful native plants— blue wheat bunchgrass, old man’s beard, blue flax, death camus, coyote brush, mariposa lily, yarrow, moss, the rare columbine. I tried not to disturb it by tromping through, and just smiled in appreciation when the arrowleaf balsam root bloomed into its bright yellow flowers next to the delicate white blossoms of the saskatoon bushes in the spring.
I worked my way back along the edge, towards the pines, hauling away yessir, yessir, many bags full of weeds. It was most important to get to them in the spring, when the soil was still moist and before the weeds seeded. I spent hours perched precariously at the top of the slope disentangling cheat grass from the roots of my favorite plants, to the steady chant of “free the bunch grass!”, “free the blue flax”.
When there were too many stairs and it was too hard to stay in that house, we moved. It had been fifteen years with many, many, many hours mindlessly humming and tending to the land. Looking at the results of all that work, I had to give a rueful laugh, because I don’t think most people could tell the difference between the before and after. But I could. The grasslands might seem like just a bunch of weeds, but it did my heart good to see the beauty of those thriving native plants which, after so many hours of dreamlike communing, had become my friends.