It is a dazzling fall day. I am walking in the frost-dusted grass and thinking about leaving, among other things, the tiny Cornelian cherry dogwood that is only twelve inches tall but already has flowerbuds, and the stewartia and its orangey-red fall foliage. The Kwanzan cherry we picked to take the place of the hollow old apple tree is beginning, at last, to spread its limbs and create the privacy I envisioned when I planted it three years ago. Its leaves are yellow against the brilliant blue sky. Six months before selecting the cherry, on the first anniversary of our moving to Cherokee Street, Bob and I together dug a hole and set the Donald Wyman lilac in place. We took turns watering it. The following summer my son laid down an eight-sided flagstone patio.
I am thinking about leaving the winterberry hollies that have copious numbers of fat red berries for the first time this year, and the Persian parrotia that I covered with netting last week to save it from browsing deer. And the yellow maple leaves that lay inches thick on the ground. So precious has this house, and this garden, been that leaving will be torturous, but staying perhaps more so.
I am thinking about leaving this place where I was loved beyond reason, where one summer night Bob and I sat out on the patio my son built and watched a hundred-thousand fireflies blinking above the grass and shimmering in the trees. Where he placed rocks in my beds and borders, big heavy rocks in the first and second years of our sharing this space, and then, as he became weaker, progressively smaller and lighter ones. When he could no longer physically move them into the particular spots he deemed perfect, he directed his son, who would have done anything to keep his father happy for one more day, to place this one here, next to the stewartia, and that one there, by the Solomon’s seal.
I am not feeling the prompt to dig a new bed, as is my fall tendency. Last week I cut down and chopped up the dying castor bean without enthusiasm, solemnly skirting the spots where his ashes lie. But despite my sorrow I cannot help but feel a quiet thrill at the dozens of foxglove clumps, vigorous in the cold November air. They will keep me here, at least until July.
The oat grass has grown tall, concealing the fallen Sungold tomatoes I did not have the heart to harvest, or eat, when they were sweet and firm. Next spring the ground will be moist and diggable, and the life-and-death cycle will begin again. Whether I stay or whether I go, I will be compelled to plant tomatoes. This I know.
I have rearranged my life, my clothes, the furniture in my house. I have given away shoes and coats and tables. Shuffling pieces of my past has brought relief.
And yet, I cannot bring myself to shift a single rock.