dandelion moments

I was standing down by the lake-edge, blinking back tears of goodbye and wishing this rich green Minnesota environment could be mine all the time. And then I turned and saw my toddler blowing a dandelion that had gone to seed, the magic of it as much in his eyes as in the wish he doesn’t know how to make yet. The almost-physical ache I had felt faded soft as the lapping lake water. I could be ok, with moments like this that slip in with unexpected happiness. I chased the boy around with my camera, instructing him to blow. Mom even grabbed him a new dandelion when the first one was out of seeds. I went inside with thoughts of dandelion hope echoing through the punchy grief of my goodbyes.

I have a tendency to let moments like this disappear into the humdrum of my days. When I curl up on the couch in the evening and my husband asks how my day was, these aren’t the things I think of first. My automatic response is to describe the lakeshore, the tears, the goodbyes, the ache I didn’t want to feel. And then I look forward to the next hard thing: I say words like, “And now we’re home and he’ll have to get used to not being the center of attention all the time; he’ll cry and hang on my legs, and ask for special treats like Larabars and his pacifier.” I forget the dandelion wishes until the very end: “There were a few good moments. Erik was so cute, blowing a dandelion with his lips all full and pursed. But I don’t know if I got any good pictures.”

I’d like to think we color our perspectives beginning with the best and happiest memories, but I don’t think it’s true. I felt joy just as strongly as pain but I focused on what was hard and hurtful instead of what was beautiful. It’s easy to do, honestly. Hard moments do make a strong impression on us. Hurt is real. Goodbyes suck. And just like that, the rain clouds that lasted for half-an-hour are all we can remember of our sunny days. It’s like a trick we help our own memories play. Like the movie Inside Out; let Sadness touch one memory and it all turns blue. No amount of scolding from Joy can stop the infectious touch spreading across a myriad of dandelion moments.

It feels like that’s an inevitable truth; the memories that sit strongest with you will color your whole day – maybe eventually your whole life. And what if your whole life, day by day, turns blue? But I don’t think that’s the whole picture, not quite.

I think we have a say in the process. I think we have a voice in the way these memories shape us – we give them some of their power and we can take some of it away. And maybe we’ll never be able to erase the hurting parts of our days. Goodbyes will always be painful, won’t they? But we don’t need to erase pain to feel joy. We just need to feel it, to really see it and honor it and give it the place it should have. And that might take some fighting.

I think we can turn our lives bright again in small but meaningful ways if we really pay attention. The deep, the real and the magnificent exist for each of us if we are willing to notice it and hold on. I can’t tell you how you will do this. There isn’t a prescription for joy because no two lives or circumstances are the same. No two people feel and capture and remember emotions the same way. Your dandelion wishes will look different from mine, even if you have a dandelion-blowing toddler trundling across the dewy grass, enchanting his aunts and grandma all together. But that said, I do have a few ideas.

  1. Write it down. Sit with your thoughts and memories at the end of a day or early the next morning and just scribble a few notes of the things that made you smile. Dandelion blowing. The airplane ride with a toddler that actually went really well. Dewy grass on my feet for one last morning, before we returned to dry Colorado. Let these things grow into a habit and you will begin to find the permeating ability of joy.
  2. Take pictures. Maybe only one in one hundred will be instagram worthy and honestly, isn’t that ok? Taking a photograph can help you remember. It may pop up in your memories, or maybe Google photos will throw it into a video for you. Or your mother will ask you for those photographs and years later you’ll find them tucked in a box or an album somewhere, and you’ll remember.
  3. Ponder. When you have those quiet seconds, the waiting seconds when you could pick up a phone and scroll, just review your own hours. Look for the beautiful things. It’s there, it’s waiting – just hunt through your own memories and dig them up. Color your days in the in-between seconds. And maybe when you find yourself lying in bed at night, you’ll realize that even with the goodbyes and the long travel and the way he cried all the long drive back from the airport, it was a day of dandelion moments.

homesick

I used to say of Minnesota that the air was made fresh again in the spring. All the old winter air was gone, I averred. It was all brand new. The soft mists above the melting snow, the clear air in the greening valleys, the air coming through my open window at night; it was all clean, unbreathed yet.

Lanier Ivester said, at a conference last weekend, “I think we are all homesick for a garden.” Ohhhh I think so too. I walk and walk down the streets, past the blooming yards in our neighborhood. The purple lilacs are beginning to flower and I pause by them wherever I find them, just breathing, smelling.

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I remember reading The Two Towers and hearing in my mind the deep voice of Treebeard saying “I used to spend a week just breathing.” Yes – I could spend a week just breathing the springtime air.

Tonight was soft and fresh from a scattered rain. The wind was blowing cool off the treetops and I sat outside even in the late afternoon damp chill to enjoy the wet, fresh scents. It was lovely to sit here, in my dry, desert state and remember the freshness of a spring season in my childhood. I think we are all homesick for a garden, a garden in the springtime air.

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walks that don’t go anywhere

The first year I fell in love with long walks I was only an awkward, sincere teenager. I discovered sometime that summer a large stick I liked to walk with and it was replaced in the fall with a slender stick captured in the Boundary Waters by a friend who sympathized with my wanderings. My sisters teased and called them my “Moses Sticks” but I enjoyed my long rambles too much to mind them.

I grew up from then spending hours walking the gravel roads – roads that could not get me to any destination, but that took me out of myself, gave me the chance to breathe deeply and think quietly and wander widely. Even on a dreary day, I could walk a half mile to The Corner and it would suffice, somehow.

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I often thought desperately that I’d love to live in town, so that my rambles could take me somewhere; and I do enjoy being able to walk to favorite destinations, but I was surprised to learn that I missed my solitary rambles through the empty countryside. I walk to destinations less and less lately, opting to wander through the prettiest streets and past the bloomiest yards. I crave the solitude, the emptiness that turned me to entertaining myself with my own thoughts. Those long walks supplied me with time to think and reflect, and create. I miss that most – the creativity that was born of quietness.

I don’t know why it has taken me nearly two years to catch up with my own needs. I am walking more now, trying to make space for reflection and inspiration. Urban life still feels crowded, as if anytime I stretch my arms out I will bump something that is not mine, or be noticed by somebody who does not understand. I must stretch though, must keep my elbow room somehow, must find the space to breathe. So I keep walking.

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gardening

Grandpa used to keep two giant gardens. The front one was bordered with gladiolus, Grandma’s favorite flower. I remember the five-gallon buckets of bulbs he kept in the basement during the winter. I also remember the crates and boxes of squash, carrots, potatoes and parsnips he sent home with us in the autumn. White parsnips, fried up in a little butter? Not bad, my dad would say. I grew to like them just because of the way Dad talked about them.

My aunt kept one large immaculate garden almost as big as Grandpa’s two put together. I spent some hot summer afternoons moving too slowly down the rows of green beans, wondering when the bottom of my bucket would disappear. Harvesting the sweet peas took longer because we’d all stop to shell a few as we went, snacking on the round tart peas, almost crunchy in their raw ripeness.

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My best friend grew a garden too. Her mother was an avid flower gardener, and soon Anni had her own little strip of black wet earth, turned over and brightened with tiny moss roses. She took care of the ferns too – large green fronds nearly as tall as I was that we bruised playing hide-and-seek.

Mom’s gardens were a bit more chaotic. There were raised vegetable beds behind the house that we kids toiled over unwillingly. There were marigolds seeded along the edge of the field that came back and surprised us every year, and an odd row of gladiolus we’d planted from bulbs Grandpa gave us. We always forgot to dig up the bulbs for the winter but somehow they came back. There were a few beds around our large lawn, too, planted with tiger lilies and daylilies, sedums, irises, tulips and daisies and geraniums.

I learned what a garden could look like and somehow worked myself up to believing it would be impossible to start my own. I tend to idealize and romanticize new things, new ideas, until I’m actually afraid to try them. It happened with gardening. I love flowers, I want a garden, but I’m terrified I won’t do it well so I haven’t bothered to do it at all. This spring my mother-in-law brought me a potted arrangement of daffodils and grape hyacinths. They’ve run their course and stopped blooming already, and I finally dug up the bulbs.

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This autumn we’ll be moving to a place with a tiny garden bed, and I want to at least try gardening, even if it means starting with five daffodil and six grape hyacinth bulbs. I took my wee boy outside to play while I rubbed the dirt off the bulbs and separated them by variety. The hyacinths were already reproducing, I noticed! Some of the bulbs had little half-bulbs growing off of them.

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The bulbs are in paper bags in the pantry now, labeled and waiting patiently to be planted in the pre-winter chill. And me? I’m excited. It felt wonderful to get some dirt on my fingers, let the earth touch me again. There will be flowers growing next spring that I dug up and cared for and planted, and though it’s only a few bulbs from a grocery-store arrangement, I’m still proud.

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spring

I have always said that fall is my favorite season, until it is spring. Then spring is my favorite. It is still true, and it is spring now. Last year at this time I made it my goal to walk a mile a day until Erik was born. I started walking, sunshine or no. I took laps around the park, crossed the busy street into the quiet neighborhoods, walked along the golf course and the bike trails. Spring was popping up everywhere, and it is again.

There are hyacinths growing, and tulips and daffodils and grape hyacinths. I see the spiky shoots that will be irises this summer, and the waxy lilac leaves unfolding slowly. Creeping ground covers are subtly regaining color from their tough roots to their tender fingertips. Trees are slowly, slowly greening and blooming. This city is its most vibrant self during the spring, I think.

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I put Erik on my back and we set out. I take mental pictures over and over – that sweet cottage with the cherry tree, a glimpse of sky through that the willow branches. Erik pushes against my back and turns his bald head to watch the passing cars, neighborhood dogs, anyone on a bicycle.

In Minnesota, spring began as soon as the air was above freezing temperatures. Puddles grew, roofs dripped through the gutters, snow glistened, mists formed. The air itself seemed new and fresh; indescribably so. There is no damp, new smell of changing season in Colorado. We are “high desert” after all. But there is a fresh scent still – a whiff of pine carried down the mountain, the dry-green smell of yuccas washed over the sun-baked rocks. Yes, there is still a hint of spring in the air, even as on the ground.

Spring has a power like no other season to get me outside in Colorado. I like to wander, to discover. I hunt beauty and bloom, keeping photographs as my bounty. We come home with roses in our cheeks, and set out again tomorrow.

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