The trails here on the outskirts of Santa Fe are dry, dusty and rocky at all times of the year, but particularly now at the start of what promises to be a very hot summer; so it is a particular pleasure to come upon a garden that a woman I do not know and will probably never meet has planted at the barren edge of the trailhead parking lot.
Her name is Nance. I only know her name because someone left a thank you note, rain moistened, under a rock at the edge of the garden, addressed to Nance.
Her project began last spring with what looked like a barely surviving group of perennials tucked in at the edge of the parking lot. There could be no more inhospitable spaces, barely noticed between parked cars and the entrance to the trail, but here Nance, for her own reasons, decided to take a stand against barrenness and drought.
Now, a year later, after a blessed spring rain, her flowers are blooming—yellow Bristleplants, red Rockets, purple Lupins, Prickly Pear Cactus with their upstarting blooms, flowers that can survive here with a minimum of care and water. They are doing more than surviving; they are flourishing, some almost a foot tall and covered with brilliant bloom.
Last summer, Nance left a note asking hikers to empty their water bottles at the end of the trail onto the flowers; there is no note this year, perhaps because we have actually had rain, but I intend to flower her directive. It is the least I can do to thank her for her generosity, the truest spirit of generosity, which is nearly anonymous and expects no thanks.
Nance’s flowers remind me of a quality, in many women, I have been recognizing and appreciating lately, especially last night at a dear friend’s garage warming party. The garage was built by her long time partner, a beautiful spare space with an angled roof and a spotless concrete floor that surely will never be spotted with oil. His garage is next to the house he also built, adding, I believe, levels, shelves for grandchildren to sleep on, hidden alcoves, a great wonderful old-time white stove on long legs (where a big pot of beans was bubbling), musical instruments lined up in their cases like sleeping cattle, endless books, and outside the big windows, the desert slanting and heaving in ridges and valleys to the far horizons—in all four directions.
The great burst of sustained creativity this house, as well as the garage and the shop, represent, made me restless with my conventional two bedroom, two bath house, pretty and comfortable but not in the least original. And this house was partnered, for me, by the older women who were at the party, women like me who have held on for years to jobs, hopes, children, grandchildren, and in their cases—unlike mine—to men.
I was struck by the fact that two or three of these sixty-year-old-plus husbands mentioned that they felt fortunate to have spent a large part of their lives with exceptional women, not something I’ve ever heard since I never hung on long enough.
No nostalgia about marriage sweetens my perception; I have an idea what these women did to make these relationships work for thirty or even forty years, the compromises, as we call them, the moments of frustration and perhaps at times despair as they piloted their husbands through the inevitably slow process of maturing that is the fate of nearly all the men I’ve known, a slow maturing that doesn’t preclude charm and even tenderness but that gives empathy a slow start and sometimes replaces companionship with a relentless focus on work, achievement and distraction, if not drink and drugs.
One man, whom I had just met, even talked to me feelingly about his wife’s death three years ago, and said that he had not yet recovered. I felt it was possible, and admirable, that perhaps he never would.
Nance, and her garden in the barren border of the trailhead parking lot, is another uplifting example of our ability to both create, and to hold on, to see possibilities in the sand or in an undeveloped, beloved man that help us to sustain our energy, and imagination, and hope during the long years of struggle. The end result is Nance’s flowers, that delighted me and made my day, or the voices of men raised to praise their wives grown old in the service of their marriage.