In fifth grade my school in Puerto Rico bordered a beach but was surrounded by a chain link fence. Every recess I stood at the fence by the sea, and followed the coastline down to the hotels in San Juan glittering pink and white in the tropical sun. I imagined my body moving through the metal fence, skimming down the coast to the glamour and glitz of the Condado Beach Hotel, then -- whoosh! -- out to sea I'd fly, merging with the wide open space where sea meets sky. These great connected open places, stretching shoreline to ocean horizon to vast tropical sky made me feel as though life might similarly be a limitless progression of greater and greater enchantment and adventure.
Later on, reading On the Beach, I learned that in the event of nuclear war, there was no safe place to escape to on this planet. A child of 1950s duck-and-cover bomb drills, I remember cowering under my desk while warning sirens blared. I lived in an idyllic island paradise awaiting the end of the world.
Thankfully, my father tempered my fears when he pointed to distant galaxies in the night sky naming the constellations Orion, Beetlegeuse, Vega, as beacons of possible worlds that might survive the end of this one.
Colorado skies are the oceans I swim in now. My gardens are located at the southwest edge of the Black Forest, an area where the dark forest gradually gives way to meadow light. Off my back porch the view of Pikes Peak, framed by ponderosa pine, lets me imagine I live in remote seclusion, though I'm only four miles from Interstate 25.
Like the idyll of my youth, this is a place of great beauty where the natural systems of forest, grasslands, foothills, mountains and sky meet in the shadow of the Cheyenne Mountain missile warning center. I feel protected in this place but not always at ease.
Today, eight years into this adventure, I'm busy each day weeding, watering, mulching, carrying off casualties to the compost pile and planting replacements. I deal daily with life and death in the garden, and constant change. One day, the Goodland crabapple I babied for five years broke apart from heavy fruiting. I cried, carrying it to the tree cemetery, feeling guilty that it died bearing its heaviest load of fruit. As difficult as it is to remove every sixth apple on a branch, now I know the importance of culling excess fruits to preserve the life of the tree.
Last week I found a hummingbird where it died, unable to dislodge its beak from our windbreak shade cloth. After eight years these windbreaks, having performed their function of protecting trees in their infancy, will be removed. I buried the hummingbird under our Russian Hawthorn tree, a tough and beautiful tree, planted in memory of my mother last year. This summer when the lilies bloom, fed by the ashes of her body spread in my garden, she'll come alive as well.
In my clearest memory, she is standing on the curved trunk of a coconut tree next to the sea, balanced with one hand against the trunk, her lovely bare feet and red toenails shining, a statuesque lush figure, her face gleaming, eyes bright, playfully motioning me to come join her.
Recently, looking out to the view of the meadow, I daydreamed that time flipped forward 32 years to 2032. I was 80 years old, moving slower with more time for quiet reflection. The meadow was lovely, and I was still falling deeply in love with my open space at the edge of the woods.
The small area of lawn, as with many of the mulched pathways, had reverted to natural meadow grasses and flowers. The peonies, hollyhocks and roses, having had their watering heyday the first ten years, had been slowly replaced by natives surviving happily on natural rainfall. Trees, planted as saplings, stood 20 feet high, claiming their space from the meadow. Surrounded by the protective canopy of these trees, my exploration of distant vistas had gained a distinctly metaphorical tone.
No garden is ever done, not until we're "done." In the meantime, I'm making new gardens, re-thinking old ones, my roots digging deeper into these soils, rocky remnants of ancient oceans. On certain days, the bright hot sun on my neck, the hot sand in my toes, I taste sea water on my lips, salt water in my nose. I'm floating on my back, waves cradling me back and forth, arms outstreched to the ends of the ocean, clouds drifting overhead in a sea of blue.