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The letting go

Iowa suffered a strange and difficult transition from winter to spring this year. The weather stayed topsy and turvy, warm one day, then cold and wet another. Ice coated the roads so many times my coworkers quit paying attention when I whined.

Magnolia, frozenI took this picture of the budding magnolia in our front yard after an ice storm. I am an optimist, and even though the newspaper and everyone in the local foods community buzzed about the ice and its effect on the blossoms of local fruit trees, I believed it was just a matter of time before the magnolia would flower, its pinkish-white blooms bursting forth the way they had the year before.

There was a day when I arrived home from work and noticed small, grey capsules littering the walkway leading to the front porch. Clearly they had fallen from the tree, and I will admit to a passing thought that, perhaps, these were the buds, and that they had been frozen so hard they had withered, and dropped away. But I shook off that thought and proceeded inside, tumbling forward with my life, still certain I’d see blossoms sooner rather than later.

I know the tree blossomed the week before Easter in 2006. My mother, my godmother and another of their friends from college came to visit us for Palm Sunday weekend, and I remember the tree exploding into color just after my mother got back on the plane the following Wednesday. As Easter approached this year, I kept waiting for the flowers, the scent, the bruised petals that littered the sidewalk.

But Easter came and went, and April tumbled on, and there was no sign of bloom. I kept mentioning it as Steve and I came and went from the house, sometimes together, sometimes apart. “I don’t think it’s going to flower this year,” I said again and again.

Then, one day toward the end of April, I noticed the tree had sprouted tender, green leaves. They looked familiar. They looked like the leaves that come after the blossoms have dropped to the ground.

“It’s definitely not blooming,” I told Steve.

Magnolia, snowed on“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Definitely not,” I said.

The magnolia tree broke my heart this year. All winter, I’d taken pictures of it — outside in the falling snow, through the blinds on a grey and heavy Sunday afternoon, when the ice sealed it to itself — with the certain knowledge that in a matter of months, the cycle would end, rewarding me with the beautiful blossoms I knew the tree was capable of producing.

I don’t remember making a decision to let go of the hope of flowers this year, but I know one day in May, I stopped wondering when the tree would bloom and embraced the understanding. The time for flowers had passed. It was time to move on, to let the tree be as it was, rather than what I hoped it would be.

33 Comments on “The letting go”

  1. #1 cole
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 9:16 am

    Dearest sweetie,

    that was lovely and you are lovely and terrific.

    Don’t be sad in Iowa…come be drunk with me!


  2. #2 inadvertentgardener
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Awww, thanks, Cole! That’s so sweet of you. It’s OK…I’m sad, sure, but things happen…you know how it is…

  3. #3 Katiez
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    I feel so sad for you and your tree!
    Maybe next year it will outdo itself to make up for it!
    Hope your area didn’t loose the fruits and nuts as well. We lost our walnuts a few years ago do to a late frost.

  4. #4 Libby
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    I saw one Magnolia bloom this spring on a house on our street in Coralville. The blooms were frozen the night it bloomed. So sad.

    I’m more concerned about some of the fruit. What a strange spring (and oh so windy…).

  5. #5 Carol
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    I’m sure the tree was also sad not to bloom because it wants to bloom. Around here, the general feeling is if you get good blooms one year out of every four on a magnolia, the tree is doing pretty good. The other years, it is hit by a frost or freeze and either doesn’t bloom or the blooms turn immediately brown.

  6. #6 the mint killer
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    they say that all trees sometimes need a pause or just a rest, or just know when to let it go. (well, i don’t really know if they really say that, but it sure sounds like something THEY — whomever they are would say….). All I can say is carry on…..

  7. #7 inadvertentgardener
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Katiez, you know…maybe this will mean fewer black walnuts hitting me in the head when I work in the garden plot this year. That might not be a bad thing.

    Libby, it’s true…I’m hearing bad news through the grapevine (no pun intended) about the fruit farmers.

    Carol, yes…I think the tree was sad about it, too…

    Mint Killer, THEY are so wise…and yes, carrying on is really the thing to do. Resilience…and a little learning…go a long way.

  8. #8 Christina
    on Jun 1st, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    I’m sorry about your tree, but I hope that next year, after a year of resting, you have the best bloom ever.

    I miss those lovely pink magnolias from DC. Every spring, before cherry blossoms even, they’d bloom madly, vainly, gloriously, and look like royalty against the grayness of early spring. Alas. Pink magnolias grow here, but they don’t bloom here the way they do in DC. I don’t blame you for missing the blossoms.

  9. #9 Annie in Austin
    on Jun 2nd, 2007 at 12:39 am

    Carol is so right about the one chance in four years for good bloom on a Saucer magnolia in the north. I’m not sure which is worse, Genie… a year when the buds freeze and drop, like yours did…or a year when the flowers have just begin to open and are turned to brown mush by a late frost or storm. Even in Austin the late freeze gets them every couple of years.
    Guess you have to enjoy the leaves!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. #10 steven
    on Jun 2nd, 2007 at 6:30 am

    This was a bad year for the blooming trees and the bulbs. The lingering Winter and that last storm pretty much ruined the blooms on everything around here. What did manage to bloom was underwhelming, but the tulips managed to come through it okay. There’s always next year.

  11. #11 inadvertentgardener
    on Jun 2nd, 2007 at 7:36 am

    Christina, I’m hoping the same thing…on so many levels. And yeah, spring in DC? Pretty fabulous. The dogwoods, the magnolias, the cherry blossoms…all just gorgeous.

    Annie, it’s true — it’s important to enjoy what is and what is there, and just to accept that. The tree’s still pretty great, even just with the leaves.

    Steven, true — there is always next year.

  12. #12 chigiy
    on Jun 2nd, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    A very beautiful post. But I feel I must do an intervention here.
    Pretend I’m standing behind you massaging your shoulders.
    “O.K. Genie, now the tree is still alive. It’s going to be alright. Shake it off. Next year the tree will have twice as many huge blossoms. I just know it. Are you O.K.? Yeah? O.K. now go out there and garden.”
    I feel better now.
    How ’bout you?

  13. #13 inadvertentgardener
    on Jun 2nd, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Chigiy, ah, yes…but see, it’s not really about the tree…

  14. #14 growthumbs
    on Jun 3rd, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Maybe by it not blooming this year, next year it will be raring to put on a tremendous showing.

    Sorry to hear you didn’t get your flowers this year.

  15. #15 inadvertentgardener
    on Jun 3rd, 2007 at 6:38 am

    Growthumbs, here’s hoping…thanks for visiting!

  16. #16 Kalyn
    on Jun 3rd, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Many things that seem important at the time will turn out to be not-such-a-big-deal in the overview of life. I’m thinking that will be the case here too. I think it’s the disappointment that hurts the most.

  17. #17 germi
    on Jun 3rd, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    I know exactly how you feel! This was a year full of tears for me – the biggest freeze in a century hit southern california just as my aloes were stretching out their bloom spikes for the early spring show. Four days of weather below 25 degrees spelled disaster for my succulent heavy landscape. I’ve lost about 1/4 of my plants, and many that didn’t die have severe damage.
    Gardening teaches us lessons about life, and I feel that this year, my lesson was about holding on too tightly. I get alot of kudos for my garden (as I’m sure you do), and wan’t sure how I would feel without the ooo’s and aaah’s I’d become accustomed to. I didn’t even want to have people over! But in the end, it hasn’t been so bad. I’m looking forward to what my garden is becomming now.

    Thank you for your words about letting go – I’ll remember them.

  18. #18 Kylee
    on Jun 5th, 2007 at 12:02 am

    I feel your pain, I really do. I was hoping my ‘Jane’ would still bloom, too, but it was not to be. And to add insult to injury, it then proceeded to up and die on me. :-(

    I just couldn’t believe it…


  19. #19 inadvertentgardener
    on Jun 5th, 2007 at 6:38 am

    Kalyn, that’s so very wise…disappointment is a powerful emotion.

    Germi, I think that was my lesson this year, too. Still sorting it out, but yes…I think so.

    Kylee, thanks for the hugs, and I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of the Jane…

  20. #20 Alanna
    on Jun 6th, 2007 at 8:01 am

    Even a tree lost forever can forever ‘green’ your mind with memories of its shape and dimension and scent and color and mood and companionship and constancy and with any luck, during its time, joy …

  21. #21 inadvertentgardener
    on Jun 6th, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Alanna, you’re so right…thanks for stopping by…and sharing that reminder. :-)

  22. #22 The darnedest thing « The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Jun 30th, 2007 at 10:42 am

    [...] story about something that seemed very important, I leaned back, looked up into the leaves of the magnolia tree, and stopped [...]

  23. #23 The hanging tomato has to go « The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Aug 24th, 2007 at 12:47 am

    [...] The hanging tomato has to go Published August 23rd, 2007 Status check , Fruit , Friends If you ask a certain quadrant of my friends, they’ll tell you I hang onto things a little too long. Even when the decision has been made for me, I’ll stick by whatever I’m working on at the time, hold onto it until all signs point so clearly to stop that I can’t help but bail out. [...]

  24. #24 Sarah Learned
    on Dec 10th, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    I just stumbled across your blog and this older post.

    Beautiful, powerful post– loss is hard enough without the compounding loss of the hope of what could be.
    Seeing the tree for what it was took courage. Here’s to breaking new ground!

    Love, Sarah

  25. #25 inadvertentgardener
    on Dec 13th, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Sarah, thank you so much for your comment — it means the world to me. Yes…breaking new ground is totally exciting…and there is a season for heartbreak, and a season for something new.

  26. #26 This year, the magnolia’s blooming right on time… « The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Apr 20th, 2008 at 7:55 am

    [...] after last year, that thrills me more than I can say. Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb [...]

  27. #27 Go west, young gardener « The Inadvertent Gardener
    on May 6th, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    [...] to seize every possible opportunity to celebrate. But this past year had its moments. There was loss, and that ever-lasting winter. I spent more hours than I care to count trudging back and forth [...]

  28. #28 The darnedest thing – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Nov 13th, 2009 at 1:29 am

    [...] story about something that seemed very important, I leaned back, looked up into the leaves of the magnolia tree, and stopped [...]

  29. #29 Growing in the dark – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Nov 13th, 2009 at 1:33 am

    [...] be a very different summer—I’m healing from a very difficult few months (after all, sometimes a post about a tree isn’t just a post about a tree), and nothing aids that healing faster than watching tomatoes form [...]

  30. #30 Go west, young gardener – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Jan 21st, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    [...] to seize every possible opportunity to celebrate. But this past year had its moments. There was loss, and that ever-lasting winter. I spent more hours than I care to count trudging back and forth [...]

  31. #31 Al_Pal
    on Feb 5th, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Wow. Beautiful, intense post. You and I have talked, just a bit, about the need to let go.
    I can guess, a little, at the not-tree that this post is about, but I’m curious to know more… such conversation will unfold as it is meant to.

  32. #32 inadvertentgardener
    on Feb 5th, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Al_Pal, happy to share the story. And thanks for your comments — much, much appreciated. :-)

  33. #33 The Possible Destruction of Actual Nests | Sweet Little Nest
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    [...] good friend Genie, The Inadvertent Gardener, wrote a beautiful post once about her magnolia tree. Well, a post sort-of about her magnolia tree. The actual words described accepting that a [...]

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