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Once again, I’ve “re-purposed” my back yard. If that sounds strange, allow me to explain. Here in the Southwest, Anasazi Indians (literally “the Ancient Ones”) preceded the Hispanic and Caucasians who followed. After years of populating what is now northern New Mexico, the native people vanished, most likely driven from their dwellings because they had no water. Fast forward to NOW. A drought, seemingly like that of the 1200s, has returned to plague us. Environmental ways of coping with the new dry times have advanced, but they are not moving fast enough.

The Century Plant towering over my backyard

The Century Plant towering over my backyard

Like other people in my town, I do what I can to help the situation, to conserve water and vote for environmentally helpful legislation. But having done that, I just want to enjoy what is. As the weather turns nice, I spend more and more time in my back yard, and as I putter about, I recall the yard’s different stages of being.
As I reflect on the yard and my journey of healing from adoption wounds, documented in The Goodbye Baby, I find parallels. Why the newly philosophical mode? Maybe I have finally calmed down enough about being adopted to enjoy and appreciate being here now. No longer agonizing over the fact that my grounds cannot be the way they used to be, I review the yard, remembering its former guises.
In the 1970s, there was a miniature forest of piñon, so dense that you couldn’t see more than a few feet. When there were trees, it was easier to grow things. I planted and tended a large vegetable garden. Aided by moderate watering, Nature provided abundant rain to help it thrive.
Fast forward a couple decades. The vegetable garden was long gone when a drought and subsequent bark beetle invasion decimated the piñon, taking 70 trees in all. There were bare spaces where shady groves previously existed. Weeds, that apparently scoff at the desirable plants’ need for water, thrived.
Mourning the loss of shade, I wandered about. My mission, an impossible one, was eliminating weeds. Anything that bloomed, whether or not it was officially a pest, was promoted to the status of “wildflower.” In addition to this anti-weed campaign, I listened to birds and gazed at clouds.
Part of my ongoing restoration of the back yard was building a seven-circuit labyrinth. So, in addition to weeding, I added labyrinth walking. Ambling, sauntering, trudging or lightly treading, I circuited the spiral path in—to center—and back out. I’ve continued to walk the spiral path for eight years. The labyrinth provides an important respite, a chance to simply be.
Beyond the labyrinth, I’d planted a blue-tipped agave plant from Mexico originally but purchased at a local nursery. It was perfect for the newly rock-scaped back yard. The hearty agave lived in the soil unobtrusively, pleasingly and attractively. No water was required other than what nature provided.
Words can hardly describe my surprise when I discovered that my agave seemed to have gone wild. A stalk was growing up out of the center at the rate of three to five inches a day!
Miracle or monster? I checked with the nursery and was told that the agave was actually a Century Plant and that it could grow up to 15 feet tall, would bloom and then die. I could cut the stalk down, thus saving the plant or I could simply witness the saga. I named it “Ferdinand” and witnessed the skyward trajectory until it was 15 feet tall. After that, it dried up and started to wither. I left it standing for another season. Finally, however, Ferdinand toppled over and the fellow agave plants, as if in sympathy, shriveled and died.
The agaves are all gone now but in their stead I’ve installed a cold frame garden plot and compost bin. Just as I’ve grown into a new iteration of my life, so has my yard. My reverie brought with it a message: A metaphor for life itself, or more likely just a “postcard from the yard.”

Lazing away the afternoon

Elaine Pinkerton dreaming away the afternoon