For a homebody like me simple pleasures are gifts, more meaningful because I tend to stay put physically and psychologically. Cookies in the oven. A hummingbird at the sage. A monarch coming out of a chrysalis. An afternoon reading poems on a chair that was once my preferred spot as a child.
When I wrote a memoir I did copious amounts of research, often buying cheap, used copies of books online so I could reread them at my own speed, write in them, dog ear, and enjoy each on the bookshelf like trophies. Every day a new package was in the mailbox, and every day I felt the echo of Christmas or a birthday, ripping open this gift, not sure what was inside, surprised that what I had asked for—or ordered—was now here in my hands. Books are so visceral and alive, their glue binding a smell like those cookies in the oven, warm and soothing; the rough paper inside like skin, my wife’s skin, like pressed maple leaves or rose petals.
The only comparable joy to books in the mailbox is coming home after a long day of teaching to find a box or two on the front porch. Plants! Plugs and pint-sized plants, but plants nonetheless. Where are they from? Who sent them? How many are there? Oh, we must get them out and into the fresh air.
Online you can get anything from anywhere. I’ve even ordered from Amazon and Ebay. I once got a “tray” of 40 milkweed, test tube milkweed I called them—each plug was a bit smaller than I bargained for.
Every spring I get a box from Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery—they are no relation to one another. Prairie Nursery packaging uses lots of rubber bands and green bamboo stakes to space the plants and keep them from launching up to the top of the box. Prairie Moon packs their plants as dormant bulbs and roots in plastic baggies with dog tag labels. The former has taught me that smaller plants establish faster than larger ones, and the latter that roots establish faster than small plants OR die faster because I still haven’t mastered planting roots. In either case, without the shipments I’d have much less joy in my life, and far fewer native prairie plants, too. And the delivery men would be out of a job. In May there’s a well-worn path from the street to my door through the front lawn.
I place my open boxes on the gardening chest on the covered deck, visiting the plants in the morning and evening as if they were patients recovering from surgery. I pace the garden, plan out what will go where. From the deck I stare transfixed for half an hour imagining the color, texture, and size of the mature plant in different positions. I use my thumb to size things up like I was taught in art class in high school. I pinch my fingers around a similar-sized plant in the distance and lift that invisible space over to another bed. A blue jay squawks from the top of the elm before diving for peanuts, leaping into the garden with two in his mouth, and tucking them into the soil beneath an aster. I hope nature prefers us planners.