Saturday, June 7, 2008

Driftwood and Longevity, Gardening

I am looking out my back window at a piece of driftwood lying in the middle of the right side of the backyard. With the poppies in the planter box behind it, it is not especially unattractive, but I hope that plants will eventually replace it. It used to dominate the side yard planter that now holds beans, a tomato and squash plant and some other edibles. How long will a piece of drift wood last?

This particular piece of driftwood may have been on the property since shortly after the house was built, over fifty years. So how old is it really? How long does a piece of driftwood last? How long does it take for a piece of wood to transmogrify into a piece of driftwood? What is the process? I know that it involves salt water, but how much and for how long and how does it stay afloat instead of sinking to the bottom of the sea?

All things to ponder as I write. The piece of driftwood might be older than I am. Or it might have been pulled fresh from the beach in a relatively short time prior to it's arrival here. If I can find someone who wants to use it in their landscape as the person who brought it here did, then it might well outlast me. Will it break down in the dump, if it ends up there? If not, it will definitely outlast me.

Trees take decades to grow and live longer than that; sometimes depending on the type of tree, the wind and weather, longer than human beings. Other times they succumb to disease and fall in wind. Life is fragile. So I wish this piece of driftwood--it isn't living anymore, I think--well. I hope that I can find a new home for it through one of the recycle lists or the neighborhood list.

The question of its being dead also is an interesting one. Wood as we use it and see it in our houses, desks and furniture isn't alive anymore either and yet it looks more alive, more like the the living tree than the piece of driftwood, cast adrift from the sea and into my backyard does. The table that I sit at now and the matching furniture in this room is nearing one-hundred years old. The trees that it was made from were not young, for the size of the pieces of wood suggests trees that had reached some girth to provide such solid planks. Trees that were alive well before I was born--possibly a century before me--provide me with the daily pleasure of working and eating at my dining room table. It is humbling to think of where I fit in to the scheme of things.

The driftwood also makes me think of native plant gardens, a big topic in the last few years in my area. This is a Mediterranean and desert mixed climate. There is typically no rain during the late spring, summer and much of the fall. If we are blessed, we receive the year's water in the form of winter rain and snow in the mountains that will produce sufficient water for the needs of the rest of the year.

Therefore, an interest has arisen in plants that are native to the area; that go brown but do not die during summer's sun and heat and that will green up once winter returns lower temperatures and precipitation to our area.

The driftwood was a major part of the landscaping on the side of the house when we first moved in. It didn't need much else. The front patio is broken up by a dirt circle that we have always called the "planting circle". When we moved in it was bordered by low mounds of Fescue, a native grass. Green during the winter and brown during the summer; my Mother, a Midwesterner, did not like it. It looked too much like the desert--which this area is actually--not enough like home, which she missed. Eventually, she had someone tear out the Fescue. Now it is trendy and expensive! I have wished that it was still there.

Twenty years ago, with the help of friends, I planted Mediterranean herbs in that circle. A few are still there. It is a good place now for roses and lavender and spring bulbs. So I will research how best to have the soil hold water, how to mulch and feed them and then find the plants to put there. Some perhaps, especially the lavender, will outlast me.

We garden, I think, in order to be at one with Nature, in order to dream and sometimes to leave something that will outlast us. All are humbling pursuits, suitable to our lives at any time, but perhaps most especially after mid-life.

I am grateful for the garden and even for the big, hulking old piece of driftwood for it has given me something to ponder.

No comments: