Win Some, Lose Some

By Anna Van Devender

November 16, 2017

Mama and baby doves, to whom the tree was home back in May.

The palo verde tree that planted itself, helped shape our front yard and shade our house, and  beautifully flowered each spring, has to come down.  We might have been able to save it if only a few branches were damaged, an arborist gently told me last week.  The wood borers and palo verde beetles are too systemic, and the stress from heat and drought too great, to help the tree now.  This was sobering news.

By letting nature take its course, we will lose a large tree.  By that same gamble, we regularly win many surprising additions to our home landscape.  Watermelon, for instance!  The vine had stealthily started growing this summer out of the gravel under pots I intentionally tend.  A minor mystery, a thing to step over and not dare hope it might make fruit.  And then, it did!

The watermelon fruit that surprised us, with my 4-year-old’s hand for scale.

I spotted the green striped, oblong melon on Saturday while cleaning toys and turning back toward the house.  A new perspective.  My boys and I squealed with delight.  “Dad, come see our watermelon!” shouted my 7-year-old as he ran into the house.  Out came my husband, appropriately amazed.  The watermelon’s stubborn existence, and my family gathered together in joy, tied for great news.

The first firewheel bloom, in June.

A more typical win, that still makes me smile, is finding which species in a seed mix survives.  Which desert flower will take to a pot of good soil, encouraging words, and, er… sporadic watering?  Firewheels is the latest answer!  This beauty has bloomed perpetually since this summer, more so since the temperatures dropped. “Lean on Me” pops into my head as I praise the plant: it flopped over months ago, lived on by several close calls, and now thrives propped up in the adjacent pot of basil.  Plants prop me up.  I can accept garden losses in light of bright wins.

Firewheel seeds and blooms, going strong in November.

It’s a bit harder with people.  My son and I both get stumped by tantrums that overshadow all the right behaviors of a day.  Sore memories of my classroom teaching efforts return more easily than the positive evaluation and photos of eager 6th graders that recently resurfaced.  Even though wins and losses of a day or a career are not on the scale of life and death, in the moment the pressure feels greater.

Button jars as of this morning.

The stars and buttons I give my kids for cooperation are for my sake as well as theirs, a visual reminder that sometimes we get things right and might be getting life figured out.  And sometimes I remember to write down small wins:

  • Listening wonderingly with my 7-year-old at the owl “who-whooo-who-who!”ing from just outside the kitchen window, pre-dawn. My son responding with a spot-on call he’d been practicing.  Waiting, then hearing not only the owl reply but possibly the overlapping hoot of a pair.  A win for my son, who had been asking to go owl calling since reading Owl Moon at Butterfield  Elementary School.  A treasure for me that we shared the moment before rougher edges of the day took shape.
  • My worry dropping away when I picked up my gobbling, prancing,
    “Turkey Race” by Zachary, age 4

    jabbering-goofily-about-all-the-colors-of-his-tail-feathers, 4-year-old from daycare. I had been late and harried, while he was on a turkey-inspired high.  I am thankful for his playfulness and for the “free range” granted by his teacher at St. Mark’s Early Childhood Center by letting him outside.

What went right today?  What went wrong?  If you’ve killed some plants, have there been some survivors too?  If you’ve worried about your kids, have they also shown you they’re OK?  Have you swapped stories with someone, to find out we all lose sometimes?  If you don’t mind trying anyway, the discoveries might make you smile.

My happy place: in the garden. Photo by Tim Van Devender in September.

Photos by Anna Van Devender unless otherwise noted.

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