Some ten years ago, not long after we took up restoring the block of degraded urban creek that parallels one edge of the reclaimed former industrial property where we live, Richard and I rescued a clump of Rocky Mountain iris that had been uprooted by a grader-blade on a remote county road. A native westerner, this wild iris flourishes in unplowed, spring-wet grasslands, its blossoms tinting whole meadows blue-violet.
We carefully wrapped the plants in wet newspaper, brought them home, and dug them in just above the creek. The next spring we searched for their pale green leaves among the crowded blades of sedge and grass with no success. We were disappointed, but we had weeds to pull and other transplants to tend. As our stream-side restoration project began to flourish, we forgot the wild iris.
Some years later, the iris appeared right where we’d planted it, its slender, stiffly flattened green leaves contrasting with the winter-dry grass. Over the next month, half a dozen slender, pointed buds rose and burst into bloom, the pale blue flowers floating like so many butterflies.
Then came a drought the likes of which hadn’t occurred here in several centuries. Our spring-fed creek dried up for weeks, and the iris disappeared. The creek’s flow eventually returned, but the ethereal blossoms didn’t–not the next spring, or the next. We figured the wild iris was gone. Until its pale blue flowers reappeared six springs later.
Just last week, Richard said, “I wonder if the iris will bloom this year.” We searched for its stiff leaves and didn’t find them. Then, Saturday afternoon, he was picking up trash along the creek and spotted the first two blossoms. “The iris are back!” he called, and I scrambled down the bank to admire them.
That these tough native plants with their delicate flowers persist at all along our thread of urban creek, bounded by a parking lot on one bank and a former industrial property on the other seems to me a small miracle. I’m grateful for the gift of their lives, and the lesson they demonstrate in persistence.
On the news front: Richard is recovering from his fourth round of chemotherapy. He’s napping a lot, but overall, this round was easier than the previous three. So we’re doing something right!
In fact, on Days One and Two of his chemo last week, he moved the 500-pound sandstone block that will form the base of his mailbox sculpture into place in our front yard. He not only transported the block without using heavy machinery, he also suspended it in place above the form while he poured concrete in, and then lowered with rebar anchor down into place in the wet concrete.
The block traveled across the yard by hand-powered cart, and then from there, he hoisted it with the gantry, a horizontal crane he designed and built for moving the boulders he works with. That’s the gantry above, with the block and its rebar anchor being lifted off the cart. Below, there’s the block in place with the gantry towers on either side. (Thanks to neighbor and metalsmith Jim Miller for help mixing the concrete and setting the block.) Stay tuned for the rest of the sculpture…
In my capacity as brain-cancer-treatment-collaborator, I haven’t had much time (or energy) for freelance writing for the last ten months, but I have managed a few projects. One just hit the newsstands this week in Zone 4 Magazine: “New Leaf Fruit: Orchard Transformation,” on a poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and her husband, builder and project manager Eric Trommer, and how the 20,000-tree fruit orchard they bought in western Colorado transformed their lives. (The photos by award-winning photographer Jim Steinberg are stunning.) Pick up a copy of Zone 4 and check it out!
Thanks to Rosemerry and Eric for welcoming us to New Leaf Fruit, and to Dan and Andra Spurr of Zone 4 for their patience. Dan assigned the story last year before Richard began seeing birds that only existed in his mind. My deadline was last September, and I simply couldn’t even think about the piece then, or for months afterward. My whole being was focused on walking this surreal journey with Richard’s brain cancer. I finally mustered the creative energy to write the story in March, and Dan slipped it into the summer issue. Now it’s in print.