The Beauty in the Barren

Heather Johansen

We let things die in the winter. Yes, our front yard, which looks pretty amazing in the Spring and Summer, morphs into a tangled web of old thorns, jagged brown branches and tufts of drab-colored grass over the colder months of Fall and Winter.

This doesn’t seem to bother us, but seems to be an issue for a group of ladies who walk up and down our street. One fall afternoon I glanced out the front window just in time to find them shaking their heads in disapproval at our barren front yard landscape. Later that evening when I was telling the story to my partner, he said, “Well, yeah! It is a spring display! Of course, it doesn’t look great right now!”

As a Gerontologist I see most things through the lens of aging. The ladies’ reaction to our garden reminded me how we, as a society, shrink away from things that are aging…anything considered past its “prime.” We prefer the plump beautiful flowers of spring, but hurry to remove what lies beneath in the fall and winter when the flowers lose their might. Isn’t what is left behind the structure that kept the flowers up the entire time?

Hey, let’s face it- aging isn’t always pretty and plump. Aging is messy and at times, raw. Aging means we sometimes have to expose the messiness underneath.  How quickly we rush to hide our frailty from others!  I suppose for most, it is just too uncomfortable to see something in its most vulnerable state.

The old, aging branches and seed pods in my front yard stick around all winter. They stand firm in the harsh north winds of December and January. During ice and snow in February they made a sort of wintry art installation; glistening in the eastern morning sun. As the mornings become warmer, an occasional bird will perch there just to belt out a song or two then move on. The bird may leave, but the branches remain.

Now, with spring here, I see sparks of green peeking through the mulch. The leaves and buds remind me how resilient we are as we age. We can survive…we can weather the storm and still be strong.

I imagine the same group of ladies will walk by and admire the peonies, daffodils, iris and lush ornamental grass. Soon, all of the new brilliance will overshadow the old, barren growth. I suppose I will enjoy the beauty, but secretly will wait until Fall when the true character of the garden reveals itself.

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