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From dust to dust

The first draft of this got deleted. So, here's take two.

The year 2023 can be summed up like this: "It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times." I faced some of my highest points (new job, new opportunities, and new cities)...

(Hike to Strawberry Lake near Fraser, Colorado. Provided by Full Potential Wilderness)

...but I also saw some of my lowest moments.

To delve into one without the other would not give you a full perspective.

Too often, the internet gives us this filtered look about what an achieved, successful life looks like. When in reality, if we showed up physically how life sometimes bogs us down mentally, we'd often look like this:

tattered and torn,

but somehow still in one piece.

Yeah, we make it through the fire. We often look and smell like it, too. Some are better at masking than others, but we all face ups and downs.

One of my low moments from this year was around June when my newly redesigned Butterfly Garden had close to $100 worth of plants stolen. Flowers are essential to my project there, and they were callously ripped from their places with no regard to their roots or not leaving a mess. This seemed intentional, messy, and overall heartless. Most of all, the theft made no sense. Here's why:

Further into the community garden there were ripe vegetables: juicy, red tomatoes. They were left unharmed. Gardening tools were left unharmed. There was a lot left behind, except my flowers. Let me give you the run down:

First, they ripped away Marigolds that had self-seeded from the year prior. I noticed, but I wasn't concerned, yet. No funds or energy had been lost at this point, so I just replaced the blank space with three sunflower seeds. Remember this for later.

Next, they hit me truly where it hurt. My precious Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan, and Butterfly Bush, all were ripped from their new established homes. This felt personal. I had recently returned from the Audobon Insectarium in New Orleans. (Check out that recap here.) When I visited their butterfly exhibit, I took careful note of the plants that I saw to recreate their set-up on a smaller scale when I got home. These were my heavy-hitter plants, and now, they were just dust. Not a root in sight.

These plants had so much potential, too. I saw many pollinators in the short time I had them. I just KNEW that when they had time to grow out, by Fall, my bed was going to be a butterfly haven. The mix of colors plus the intention behind it, everything was going to go perfect, in my mind.

Pollinators: Common Buckeye Butterfly, Checked White Butterfly, unknown bees

After these were snatched away, I surely was concerned, but there were no quick solutions to stop thefts in a community garden. Not many people are coming to your aid over something as frivolous as flowers especially.

I just had to wait and watch for what was to come. I felt defenseless.

Lastly, my Pentas, the most abundant in number but by far not the prettiest flowers, they were stolen.

What once was a beautifully designed Pollinator Garden, was now just a few sunflower sprouts. For a long time, I was too hurt to even visit this box. I vowed to never touch it again and was determined to start something new elsewhere. I know when doing community work there's a chance to be hurt by vulnerable people, but when things don't make sense, that complicates things.

Weeks pass.

By the time I drove near the community garden again, and was curious enough to stop by, things looked much different.

Yep, that's me. Next to my giant sunflower(s). I had never grown one this tall. Before, my sunflowers only reached about half that height. I was elated to see the update on this thing that I forgot about! The tallest sunflower would end the growing season with a measured height of 9ft, though after considering the drooping of the heads because of weight, I suspect she was closer to 10ft. Beside it, though you can't really see here, are two sister sunflowers that would reach about 6ft. on each side.

I've had this same pollinator box at the garden since 2022. I have tilled the soil, fertilized on many an occasion. I have labored in love. I've seen this tiny box through it's better and worse days.

The best thing about the stolen flowers is it taught me that the flowers were just an outward manifestation of the work I had done to the soil. No one could steal that from me. Flowers come and go. I could always replace them, as I have throughout the seasons. I always had to pull up the old to make room for bigger and better. This was nothing new even though the choice wasn't mine.

In order to sow new seeds, we have to till the ground. My giant sunflower and its two sisters soaked up all the nutrients left behind and really grew into something beautiful, but that was only after everything else was ripped away. It was sunshine after the rain.

So many pollinators and wildlife were supported by those sunflowers for months to come. They weren't taken down until December.

Pictured: American Bumblebees on one of the sister sunflowers. "Grazing Station" for birds and other wildlife to enjoy the seed heads over winter.

They say life is like a box of chocolates. I recently got one from work and let that settle in as I pigged out. Do we throw the whole box away when we get parts we don't want? No, we cherish what we can. We try what we can. Some things don't work out and that's fine. Unexpected and unexplainable things happen.

Life is naturally an assortment of highs and lows. Life is an assortment of visible grow and dying back at the right moments. Both parts are equally necessary.

For the first year ever, I successfully transitioned my garden boxes for winter. I either covered them completely with tarp to make the next season easier or tilled the ground and sowed the appropriate seeds as a head start for Spring. My first year in gardening, I let most of my plants die of frost because it was so hard to let go of what was.

However, letting go when seasons call for it is necessary. The more you exercise this muscle, the easier it gets. Nature knows when the season or environment is not conducive to growth. Why don't we?

You have to bust up the top layers of soil to give roots room to stretch. It looks messy but it's so necessary in order to welcome in new. Maybe, being undone isn't so bad. Being undone is the opportunity to grow.

In memory of my original pollinator garden for 2023.

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