Saturday, April 2, 2011

UPS. FedEx. USPS

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.

12 comments:

A said...

What a lovely word picture to wake up to. Especially appreciated by on who lives in suburbia, and usually wakes to the sound of the birds desperately trying to be heard over the lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chorus of neighborhood dogs barking. Thank you Ben...

Shyrlene said...

"A" said it so well - 'a lovely word picture'! Deliveries at the door are like little random 'birthday' gifts - just without the cake (but warm cookies from the oven would do!).

Christina said...

Finding plants on my doorstep would be wonderful. (well, there are plants on my doorstep but I put them there)

I found a Robyn's egg in my bird bath this morning. I wonder how it got there. Maybe a Jay or another bird?

HolleyGarden said...

Yes, I do the 'happy dance' whenever I get a garden related package, or books delivered (usually garden related, too)! It's like a birthday present to yourself any time of year.

Benjamin Vogt said...

A--I live where you do, and it drives me insasne (see my Mr. Mows All the Time posts). Right now it's perfect--just birds and frogs in the pond, usually competing well enough with dogs locked outside by stupid people.
S--See, now I want cake delivered with plants. That's be a winning nursery.
C--Yeah, probably dead robin egg. Cats, snakes even? Last year we lost 5 eggs in a borwn thrasher nest due to cats.
H--I have a real addiction to ordering used books online. There are so many I want to read. I swear I'll read them. Really. You don't believe me? I will.

The Sage Butterfly said...

I also find receiving my mail order plants and seeds such a treat. I work from home as well, and it feels like Christmas when these packages arrive. :)

NellJean said...

It's hard to say whether I'd rather get a package of books, a package of plants or new shoes. At least with books and plants you know for sure they will fit.

Indoor Fountains said...

You have quite a way with words!!

Canyon Girl said...

I agree, there is nothing better than a book in the mailbox or a package by the front door.--Inger

scottweberpdx said...

Haha...I can totally relate...it's like Christmas morning when I see those boxes on the porch...and I certainly do my share of fussing over new arrivals!

Benjamin Vogt said...

SB--If only they were gifts we didn't have to spend money on, too! :)
IF--Thanks. But I better, you know, trying to be a writer and all. Trying. Trying. :)
CG--I think one book a day will keep the doctor away.
SW--Isn't the fussing awesome? And then when I go to actually plant the, it takes days I'm so finicky about position.

our friend Ben said...

Ah, yes, the thrill of packages arriving when you work from home. My father gave all my much-loved, drawn-in, written-on, dreamed-over childhood books to my brother when he had kids and I didn't, and I've spent decades trying to find replicas of All About Strange Beasts of the Past, The Iliad and the Odyssey (astonishing illustrations in that children's book), and etc. Thank God for used books on the internet! None will ever have the (amazingly excellent) drawings of turtles I made in my original copy of Yertle the Turtle, and I've still never found the exact printing of A Christmas Carol that my mother had us read aloud from every Christmas, but I think I've found pretty much everything else at last. Sad to have to reconstruct a beloved childhood, but at least it's now possible...