Day of Rest


Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?
~Mary Oliver, Peonies

Yesterday, I planted peonies, made a memorial garden of sorts. One Moonstone, “This heavenly-scented peony has large double white flowers with blush pink petals along the outer edges,” one Shirley Temple, “This early bloomer has double blush-white flowers with a hint of red. Pale pink fading to white, these medium-sized blossoms with petals arranged in whorls create a very delicate appearance,” and one Rachel, “This attractive perennial is prized for the amount of double blossoms. The late midseason blooming flowers are a bright crimson color and are held on strong sturdy stems above the clear bright green foliage.” I am completely and utterly in love with peonies, so lush and delicate, strong and soft.

At the nursery, the sign said peonies can live for 50-75 years. They live long, are “drought tolerant, deer resistant, and good for cutting.” My friend Susan, Kelly‘s mom, said she has one that her grandmother gave her for her wedding 45 years ago. I love that. Peonies were blooming at Kelly’s memorial service four years ago. Something about them soothed me, gave me comfort, even though looking at those blooms now breaks my heart all over again. Kelly was an avid gardener, and digging in the dirt, cultivating my garden makes me feel close to her.


I bought three to start. That number seems right — three for the three I’ve lost but still carry with me, (Heather, Obi, and Kelly), and three to represent all three of my dogs, (one I’ve already lost, one who is somewhere in between, and the one who will have been here for the grief of both losses, helping to heal me). I planted them in the mound where our cottonwood tree used to stand.

That tree was one of the main reasons we chose this house over the other options — that and the big yard, the location (close to Old Town and Lee Martinez Park, only a five minute commute to work for me), and the decorative plaster ceilings. In truth, at already almost 40 years old, the tree was a liability. It dropped a huge limb on our car once, causing $1500 worth of damage. I made a deal with her then that if she dropped another limb that big, we’d need to take her down (we live around the  corner from an elementary school and have lots of kids on our block, and that size limb was potentially lethal, even to an adult if it had fallen just right). A few years later, another came down, so we had to take her out.

she was massive

she was massive, and beautiful, and terrifying

Taking her down, losing her was traumatic. I still remember how it felt coming home and seeing her there, stripped of all her limbs, a man high in a bucket raising his chainsaw to start taking down the first section of trunk. I felt sick. I wanted to tell them to stop, but it was already too late. I hadn’t realized until she was gone that she’d provided more than shade. That she’d been more than a threat, she’d stood guard, somehow protecting us. Without her, without anything between us and the street, between us and the rest of the neighborhood, I felt exposed and vulnerable. It took almost six months for that feeling to go away.

Based on that, it might be surprising we didn’t simply plant another tree. We chose to put in flowers, vegetables and fruit instead, along with a spot set aside to remember everything we’ve loved and lost, with the intent of eventually getting rid of most of the grass. Eric was telling me that he heard a story on NPR the other day about the history of lawns, how people initially put them in as a status symbol, to show their prosperity — if they didn’t need that land for growing food or raising livestock, that meant they were well off. It reminds me of how at one point in history, having a tan marked you as lower class because it meant you had to work outdoors, but then later having a suntan became a symbol of affluence, showed that you had enough leisure time and money for travel that you could afford to spend your days lounging around in a lawn chair or by the pool or on a beach somewhere with nothing better to do.

So far we’ve put in three new raised beds for vegetables, made another bed for strawberries, filled in the front burm with irises and other flowers, created a spot for the peonies, and dug out other spots for various melons, squash, and cucumbers. I made sure to put a cherry tomato in the back yard for Dexter (we have three beds back there too), just in case he decides to stick around until there is fruit, (he loves them so much, I sometimes catch him picking them himself — if he gets a green one, he spits it out). This morning, he made it an offering of his Little D, so I think he approves.

Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
~Mary Oliver, Peonies

5 thoughts on “Day of Rest

  1. cindy

    That was a beautiful post..I, too, just bought a new peony plant this week. The tree was beautiful! …and so says it better than Mary Oliver…Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. catherine bennett

    I have just found your site and resonate with so many parts of your thoughts, mostly about being so sensitive to the world in general and being almost incapacitated spiritually by peoples lack of empathy, compassion and intelligence.

    As with your tree, and from the image, I can see why the loss of such majesty in a tree left you bereft and sad. See how you adapted though, because it is in our interests as a species to “adapt or die,” you now have vegetable and flower beds.

    I had to cut down a hedge in my back yard that had overgrown into large scrawny looking trees. The hedge we replaced it with has never grown to satisfactorily cover the unsightly roof of the neighbors house.

    I cannot tell you how intensely that view bothers me everyday for the last 4 years as I water, feed and encourage the hedge to fill in, flourish and grow.
    So when I wash up and look out, instead of following the mountains in the distance and send my gaze to the roses black bamboo sweet peas and poppies, in the garden, I relentlessly fixate on the PROBLEM with the hedge.

    Thich Nhat Hanh reminds one to be mindful even when doing the dishes and I do sometimes smile and say it’s just a scraggly hedge, forget it and do mindful washing up.
    The hedge doesn’t bother my husband at all.

    Where one lays ones thoughts and the power we allow them to have on us is “the work” I suppose.

    It would be so helpful to have someone to share these thoughts with. Perhaps I will follow your site and find a kindred spirt, not one I can sit in the garden with and drink tea, but still, out in the ether a connection.

    I send kind thoughts your way and wish the scent of honeysuckle will float through your bedroom window. You will have to plant a honeysuckle bush of course

    catherine bennett.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      What a lovely comment, Catherine. As a highly sensitive person (have you heard this term before, do you know what it is?), I totally understand the irritation you feel from the shrub — it’s like having a rock in your shoe or a sliver in your finger. I wonder if after four years you might consider another plant? Maybe that one isn’t suited for that space? When I want something to fill in fast and be beautiful, I always plant lilacs. Here in Colorado, they grow up to 12 feet tall and are covered in blooms — this is what I smell when my window is open. Although, all their leaves do fall off in winter and they are bare.

      I suppose what I am trying to say is that while It is good to try and “get over” something that irritates us, to be able to be with it, to work with it, if we can’t, it’s okay to then, after our good effort is exhausted, try something else — to take the rock from our shoe or remove the sliver. Of course, you might also realize that somehow that scrawny hedge is your best friend, your teacher, through the opportunity it’s giving you to practice.

      Much love. xo

  3. Pingback: Day of Rest: Remembering Kelly | A Thousand Shades of Gray

I'd love to hear what you think, kind and gentle reader.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s