Last week I drove to Indianapolis to visit my childhood friend, Nancy. She was having a Peony digging party. She admitted it was the old Tom Sawyer trick, an easy way to get her Peonies moved from one side of the yard to another, but I think we got the best end of the deal. She fed us a delicious lunch, and we got to take some plants home. Before I drove over I cut back and divided one of my own Peony bushes—a lovely dark pink with full flowers I dug twenty years ago from my grandmother’s yard. The roots were large and white, and smelled faintly of Sassafrass. I brought some of those to share, and took home a bucket of rootstock from pale pink and white bushes. A bunch of Nancy’s Indianapolis friends came too, and we were a lively crowd—chattering through lunch and breaking into groups to dig and divide the various colors. We’re not sure what we ended up with, because Nancy could only remember the colors of two of the bushes. We planted a row of random roots to edge Nancy’s yard, and at home, later, I extended my path to the barn with a double border of peony bushes. Of course now, they’re just brown twigs sticking out of the mulch, but I can imagine the spherical bushes come spring.
In Indiana I got to meet in person friends I knew only virtually, and I got to set the record straight a little. Susan seemed surprised when I ‘fessed up to the state of my own vegetable patch (Overgrown now, with sad, last-gasp cucumbers turning yellow and bitter on the chicken wire; the chives, onions, and garlic, long buried by the monstrous tomato plants; too many of the tomatoes left on the vine too long, only a small bag of dried Plum Tomatoes to show for my harvest.) Of course, Susan only knows Birdland by what she reads in these letters, so I had to admit to her that I make it sound way better than it really is. Sometimes I feel like a fraud, but usually I think that writing these descriptions opens my own eyes to the beauty hidden in plain sight amidst the chaos of my life. I guess I’m guilty of telling stories with selective focal points. The Birdland of the letters contains the vision of what the real life Birdland could be if I had, say, an extra ten hours in my day, or an extra three days in my week. If things like flat tires and missed due dates and lost contacts and burnt pies, long meetings and expensive dental work didn’t happen. If I had a staff of gardeners, or could afford to retire, I’ll bet Birdland would be a lovely garden amid the corn and beans.
Susan told me that the vision is important, and I realized that equally important is the faith of people like Susan, who can imagine that winding path to the barn even as the crabgrass creeps over the mulch like despair. That faith is significant, fueling my desire to pull out those weeds and follow that path to joy, from the clothesline all the way to the butterfly house I want to build next spring. I’m grateful to people with faith in the vision. They keep me walking on my path. And maybe soon I’ll just host a Peony dig of my own.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in the intersection between community and nature.