A year and a half ago, my friends and next door neighbors and I had to have a hackberry tree taken down. It had developed root rot which looks like crunchy black foam at the base of the tree, and means over time the tree becomes unstable from the inside out in its root structure. A big wind could find the entire tree coming down. This tree was big enough to do damage to both of our houses and could've easily crashed into the upstairs bedrooms of each. Even though hackberrys are the Spring and Fall home to aphids and aphid poop showers down on anything and everything under the tree...cars, mailboxes, sidewalks, plants in the yard...creating a sticky gross coating, I have to confess I was a little sad to see it go.
It was my disaster survival warrior tree. In 1992, after several hard rains, turning the ground into mush, there was another crazy storm with high winds that pulled a second tree in my front yard out by its roots and laid it neatly across the front yard. So I didn't notice right away that the hackberry had also been lifted out of the ground, about nine inches, and pushed about 25-30 degrees toward our houses. My across the street neighbor told me later that he was watching the storm on his front porch and saw when the wind caught my trees. He watched the first one fall and the hackberry get lifted and pushed. Said he knew he was going to see it get thrown on both houses, but all of a sudden the wind settled down and the tree stopped moving. We quickly had it dramatically pruned to take weight out at the top and after a while, it settled back in. It survived a crazy ice storm two years later that many lesser trees did not and in 1998, it was one of the few huge trees on the block that survived Nashville's tornado. That's when I forgave it for all prior and future aphid poop and figured we were destined to be together forever. Had it fallen that day, the damage to my house could've been catastrophic as opposed to only significant.
And yet, even disaster survival warrior trees can get root rot. The ironic end to the story is that after 20 years of resilience, she had to come down under the power of chainsaws and ropes and a stump grinder.
(A side note: Stump grinders are amazing. I learned there are different kinds. After the tornado, I got used to seeing the ones that basically fit around the stump and then a blade shaves around and around and around, lower and lower. I'm thinking now, although don't really know for sure, that kind of grinder may be for smaller stumps. The hackberry left a stump more than 3' across and the grinder was an impressive piece of equipment with a human driver. It still took several hours and did not look like a good time for the human. When the stump was even with the ground, the remaining 'mulch' pile was a mound big enough to be spread over my entire front yard and then some.)
This process took a toll on the border between the two front yards. It was lumpy and ill defined, having ruined a section of their beautiful grass. I removed my not beautiful bermuda grass several years ago and went with a landscaped/mulched/hardscape design. (The truth is that removing bermuda grass is an aspiration, not a real thing. It can't be eradicated...I'm not kidding. When I told my mom that I was taking it all out to get control of my front yard, she looked at me dead pan and said something to the effect of "it's cute that you think you can get rid of it." True. So true.) I digress....
Although having confessed to the truth of not being a patient person (scroll down to see previous blog story), I have learned over the years that the best way for me to approach the solution to a problem is to look at it often, run several dozen possible solutions through my head, live with it for whatever amount of time it will take for the right solution to emerge, and 95% of the time, it will emerge. This obviously doesn't work for urgent or immediate issue, but definitely works for "how do I fix that earring?" or "how can I clean up the border between two yards?"
Among the rejected ideas were: 1) Put in a new flower border. Rejected because of grass invasion and the maintenance felt too high after spending all last summer simplifying the overall landscaping. 2) Straighten up the edge, installing railroad ties or landscape timbers. Got a nod for simplification, but the final vote was no...too boring. 3) Build a really cool seating area, seats facing both ways, flanked with planter boxes. Got a nod for design and cool factor. Final vote no because, do I always have to make the project more elaborate than it really needs to be?
Winning idea: planter box for herbs with simple seating for maintenance and harvesting. Elements of each losing idea...pretty border, clean up the edge, not be boring, not be over the top, have seating. Voila!
I accomplished this a few days ago with 26 six foot cedar boards, nails and screws, 10 hours of time (which included a trip to Home Depot for 3 more boards and 10 two cubic bags of garden soil). Such happiness. In another week or two, my lovely friend/next door neighbor and I will fill it. There will be basil, rosemary, lemon basil, thyme, sage, cinnamon basil, chives, parsley, cilantro and who knows what else. More kinds of basil if I can find them. And then it will be open to the neighborhood. My neighborhood is the best. Good, kind, giving, friendly, funny, talented people. They deserve fresh herbs. I don't know if the neighborhood herb box will ever earn the same tribute as my warrior strong hackberry, but I'm hoping it'll make stories of its own.
I've never been the most patient artist....mom...person. I admire patient people and the result of their patience...carefully conceived and meticulously detailed art, quiet conversation, thoughtful approach to problem solving, and just being in the world. None of that has ever come to me naturally though. I'm more a what-is-the-most-efficient-path-to-get-where-I-want-to-be person. I know there's room for all of us on the planet, but I suspect that the happiest are those who experience joy at both ends of this continuum.
Specific to the creative process, patience can be the difference between a stellar outcome and mediocrity... Stellar bringing joy; mediocrity, not so much. Several years ago, after learning basic skills to lay floor tile, I became enamored with mosaic. Small mosaic doesn't require enormous patience. Yay. I've made some pretty cool mosaic tile garden pavers. I've also made some lazy girl tiled pieces. After a series of decently executed but largely uninspired tile work, I decided it was time for an exercise in patience and skill building...a patience project.
Another expression of my impatience is that it's difficult to keep myself in a seat for very long. My job finds me in a few half day or full day meetings every month. One strategy to stay in the seat is doodling. I can fill a page with intricate designs and keep favored pens in my purse for that sole purpose. I wouldn't call it great art, but the doodles inspired the design for my patience project.
And winter inspired its timing. Tennessee winters are gray and cold. I always need a big project to get me through to Spring. That year I decided the project would be to design and execute a detailed mosaic on the closed fireplace in the front room of my house. I lifted a handful of doodles from a page of doodles that I had done during several long meetings and sketched them onto the fireplace, filling in the empty spaces with other images as needed for balance. I ordered small stained glass tiles from an ebay store that I liked and a good pair of tile nippers.
This is what happened.
I found that I could work for about 4 hours on a good day with several stretching breaks. Since this was a direct application, I sat cross legged on the floor with a sheet draped over my lap to catch the tiny glass shavings that happen when nipping glass tiles. I didn't always work that long, but also learned that it went better if I worked long enough to get in the zone. There's a rhythm that emerges between hands and brain after a while that makes for better flow. I don't know what the science behind that phenomenon is, but every artist knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Though not perfect, this project did help me learn the art of patiently attending to detail. I also turned into a glass tile nipping wizard...sometimes I felt like I could tell the tile what I needed and it would break perfectly under the pressure of the nipper. I honed my design skills by spending time playing around with scale and placement of the elements. There are a couple of finished elements that I've never been happy with, but I won't repeat the mistakes that I made in their execution either.
I can honestly, and gratefully, report that this project has had a longstanding influence on my ability to access the patience within. I would love to say that I have learned to be so very patient that it feels natural to me now. It doesn't. It's very much something I have to consciously practice. But I can also report that it's easier now than it used to be and its practice brings me joy.
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
The patience project. Because patience is a virtue. And a creative challenge.
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Tile and wood floor...this year's winter project...kitchen renovation