there were roses

November 8, 2004

i discovered roses this year. this did not really surprise me, as i have a tendency to make life discoveries periodically, becoming enthralled with things that may be quite commonplace to others. i also am obsessed with beauty, driven by a compulsion to create beauty around me, in whatever form that may take. sometimes it is a work of art that leaves me breathless, sometimes a face, sometimes a sunset. and then, at times it is the most unexpected of things–a simple intensity of color, the way fabric drapes, a curtain blown by a breeze . . .

there is a pattern to these discoveries, though, i have noticed. my most intense enthrallments come as a way of healing, in painful periods of life. the year my college roommate died, for instance, i discovered dahlias. my walking route to school passed a house where, during dahlia season, as it was at the time, the man would sell picked dahlias from his garden daily. passing them one day shortly after she died, i stopped in my tracks and gazed in a trance at the brilliant shades of orange and red. for the length of that long pacific northwest dahlia season, i bought dahlias daily. i surrounded myself with them, putting them in vases in the kitchen, by my bed, on my other roommates’ nightstands, and i could literally just do nothing but stare at those myriad of petals, marveling at so much pigment packed into such a small space.

coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, around the time the dahlias stopped to bloom, my grief was beginning to soften.

then, this past year, a relationship ended right before roses began to bloom. on a run, shortly after this, i passed a rose bush–it was love at first sight. i began by seeking out wild rose bushes on my run, hunting for hidden alleys that might hold that one undiscovered ownerless bush, waiting for me to take its blooms home with me. then, at the grocery store, i saw potted rose bushes on sale. i stood and stared for a while and then continued with my shopping, reminding myself that i knew nothing of gardening and had a hard enough time keeping houseplants alive. they drew me back, though–i just couldn’t help but long for a bush of my own . . . so, why not, i thought–i might as well give it a shot. i bought my rose bush–a rather pitiful-looking blueish hybrid, granted, but it was the best i could find at the time. with my small trowel and a good bit of wrestling with the soil, rocks, and roots, i managed to dig a deep enough hole for the bush and planted it as best i knew how.

the next day, at my grandparents’ house, i relayed my new undertaking to my grandmother. her eyes lit up as they do when she has a brilliant inspiration, and she said she had way too many bushes that the miracle bush my mom gave her had spawned–i should dig up and replant one of her bushes. my mom, you see, has a magic touch with plants; she has amazing gardens–flowers, trees, herbs, vegetables; she can make anything thrive, even if she only gives it, and is not able to plant it herself. so, this bush she had given my grandmother some 20 years ago had not only bloomed faithfully and beautifully; it had spawned numerous offshoot bushes, each if which was equally beautiful.

excited at the prospect of having such beautiful roses, i took my grandmother up on her offer and dug up this bush, bringing it up to its new mountain home. i was a bit concerned at the prospect of traumatizing the bush with relocation, and this time i was determined to do it right, so i did a bit of research on proper rose bush planting and care techniques. i wrote down a step by step procedure for myself accordingly, noting with excitement one detail: “layer the bottom 2 inches of the hole with fertilizer–preferably horse or cow dung . . .” cow dung, i thought–i can do that!

see, i happened to live in a small farmhouse with a backyard full of cows. they belonged to the landlord, but i certainly had enjoyed them thoroughly–they may not have enjoyed me quite so much, with my odd tendency to try to moo as authentically as possible with them. at any rate, during my time in the house, i had watched with excitement as one calf, then 2, then 3, appeared. and now, i could make use of their dung! by this time i had also found a shovel–50 cents at a yard sale (actually, i had gone to the yard sale specifically for a shovel. when i did not see one, i asked if they by any chance were selling any. now that you mention it, he had told me, come on back–i think i have a few i might be willing to part with . . .) the shovel made the digging process substantially easier.

now, hole dug, rose bush ready, i went out back armed only with a plastic bag. i climbed the fence and looked around for the most promising-looking piles. then, as the cows stood picturesquely in a row (in height order even, believe it or not), i proceeded to pilfer their dung, scooping it into my bag by the handfuls and looking up periodically to see them chewing their cuds with cocked heads and bemused expressions on their bovine faces. mission accomplished, i returned to my bush and finished planting it in my best imitation gardener fashion.

then, i was struck by the odd urge to pray that it would make it. what a silly thing to pray for, i thought, but then i rethought, and said well, why not pray for my rose bush. i mean, after all, i couldn’t think of anything i wanted more at that moment than to be able to keep my rose bush alive. so, i prayed.

over the next few weeks i eagerly watered and watched my new bushes, eyeing the new bulbs to see if they would bloom into prize-winning blooms. the end products proved to be less-than-impressive, but i kept my hopes up. there was still another week or so of blooming season, after all . . .

well, i’m afraid the remainder of the season did not do much to improve the state of my rose bushes. and i may never know how they far once next season rolls around, as i have since moved. but, there is a happy ending.

about the time i realized that i should probably not hope for much from my roses, i mowed further into a corner of the yard one day, back into the brush of dense field grass and tangled bushes where i had never before ventured. suddenly i noticed a splash of pale pink almost hidden by the overgrowth. i stopped the lawnmower and looked closer, and then gasped. pushing through the brush i discovered what was literally the most beautiful rose bush i had ever seen. it looked like it had leapt out of the pages of a fairy tale. somehow, it was a delicate rose bush that had spread its branches every which way to become a huge wild growth of a bush. and it was covered, absolutely covered, with delicate, blush-pink blooms.

i was teary-eyed with joy, and immediately began gleaning from the bush. here, all this time, i never knew that in my own yard i had access to roses that were more beautiful than any of the others i had been longing for. for the rest of that month, i picked roses daily. there were roses all over my house, i left roses on my neighbor’s doorsteps, i took armfuls to my friends, and i could never exhaust the incredible fertility of that one bush.

maybe i will never have success as a gardener, but i can’t help but wonder at the grace of One who would grant the gift of beauty in such a marvelously unexpected manner.

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