My garden is amazing to me this year! After the very dry spring of 2018, with evacuations and then a terrible wildfire, the Spring Fire burned over 100,000 acres, this spring has been a dream. Plants that I had almost forgotten about came back in full force! Plants that got eaten back by deer or bunnies came roaring back with no deer in sight.
Then my brother John, the self-proclaimed “dirt guy,” made a trip up here in May to finish up…
After a number of other trips up here from Sedona in the past few years to help us plan out and finish our new garden facing the Spanish Peaks, I decided to name this garden for him. He put a lot of heart and soul into his work here and it shows!
I was raised by Dr. Jack L. Carter, a well-known botanist in this area, best know for his books “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado” and “Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico.” I never wanted to be a botanist. My interests ran more towards Asian history in college, after a few months living in Thailand at age 19. But as it turns out, my new garden at 7,000 feet, is where I now go to find meaning, happiness, comfort and solace.
I love everything about going out to visit my plants each morning. I want to see what’s blooming, what’s thinking about it, and which plant needs some help from me to be happier with their placement in the garden.
I have had gardens all over Boulder, Fort Collins and Loveland Colorado. From this I have learned that all gardens take time to develop and grow in their own way. Only start a garden if you have a few years to watch it develop of its own accord. You need to learn the native plants in your area and gain the awareness of which critters eat what. I spent a couple years walking around La Veta before I started my own garden. There you can quickly see what may survive constant deer nibbling, plus rabbits, etc. I have also incorporated a number of native plants from our surrounding acreage. Some just turn up in the garden and I let them stay. Others I have transplanted.
This spring we have a abundance of this plant along the county roads and just about everywhere, which is curious because I don’t remember seeing a lot of it before this year. After consultation with my favorite botanist friend Jan, we decided it is called Penstemon augustifolius.
From the very beginning I knew I wanted to bring some Penstemon strictus into my new garden, common name Rocky Mountain Penstemon. I had great experiences growing ihem in my Loveland garden a number of years ago.
My garden in Loveland was my primary solace in the spring of 2001 when my marriage fell apart. I started a garden because I love growing things around me and I knew even then that:
Action is the greatest antidote to despair.
Eighteen years later I will share with you an essential insight into how life works. When life seems meaningless, find some part of your life that you can transform. I have transformed ugly screened-in porches into beautiful sun rooms and empty lots into native plant gardens. Find a way to make something beautiful around you. Do it today!
The past few weeks since my brother John left, have been quite trying. First I got bronchitis, then our kitty Charlie died, and now Mike has bronchitis. When it rains, it pours! Then yesterday I took a bad fall onto concrete directly on my knee. These kinds of experiences leave me wondering “What’s next?” but in a bad way…
Neither Mike nor I had ever had to euthanize a pet before. We couldn’t believe what was happening at the time, but Charlie was suffering so much with no solution but death. And yes, Mike had to bury Charlie himself down below our home. It seems we have started our own pet graveyard.
The thought that stuck with me after watching our cat first get a shot to help him relax, and then one to help him let go of life, was exactly how close we all are to death at any moment of our life. It hit me with radical clarity how we spend our whole life misunderstanding and fearing that moment of death, and then it is over so quickly. The line is truly fine and gloriously final.
Then my mind continued to the thought: Most of our conceptions at the beginning of life were quite haphazard. How many of our deaths will be the same?
That is why I love spending time in my garden right now. The silence except for the bird calls, the morning chill, the bright flowers that pop up one morning and leave just as suddenly. This is the natural cycle of life and death on planet earth. This is what we signed up for when we were conceived. We come, we experience and we go.
“We’re all just walking each other home…” – Ram Das
For many, the decision of how to handle the freedom from having a specific job in a specific place can be daunting. For one thing, most of us have never faced such freedom. Most of us have lived where our job was for decades and made do. Perhaps we came to love our home, our neighbors or our general situation. Perhaps we dislike major life changes. That wasn’t us. Mike and I had been thinking about getting out of the city for decades when the opportunity arose to do just that.
That is not to say the choice was simple. There are so many factors to consider. Closeness to family and friends, expenses, how much we like or dislike the unhealthy aspects of city life. Besides the unhealthy air for someone with COPD, I discovered as we thought about it, that I did not want to spend another minute sitting at stoplights when I had so little life left. I hate wasting time! Yes, the decision probably won’t be easy, but it must be made either way.
My own uncertainty five years ago at this time, as we prepared our lovely suburban home for sale, did create great stress in my life. About this time the end of May 2014 we had a buyer set up for mid-June, but no place to move to in Walsenburg! Yikes! Remember, once you make that tough decision, you need to accept all the major stressors that come your way after that. And we were also preparing to build a new home in a rural area where good workers are hard to find.
Yes, I remember it all just like it was yesterday. At the time it often felt like too much to bear. And yet, the rewards have been so worth it. Now I’m certain we made the right choice for us, but there were many times I doubted every decision we made. So much easier to stay in the same home and hope for the best, but then you will never know the rewards of moving on and choosing something completely different!
In the summer of 2014, Mike and I sold our nice house in Fort Collins to move temporarily into an old miner’s home in Walsenburg, while constructing a passive solar home near the top of Navajo Ranch Estates west of Walsenburg Colorado. To learn more about downsizing to a tiny town and then living in the Colorado countryside, consider reading my book: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado available from Amazon or directly from me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com
The changes are so gradual that at first you don’t notice them. After we completed our passive solar home in 2015, it took months for us to truly relax. While it was being built it felt more like the workmen owned it instead of us! Then, after we moved in, it felt like an expensive foothills retreat. I kept waiting for the manager to arrive and kick us out. But it did finally get finished, and then we rested.
I would say it took at least a year to totally accept that this was our new home. It didn’t feel like anywhere I had ever lived before. The lack of neighbors and the absolute silence took my breathe away. When we first started building I felt like we lived so far out in the country, but after a year or so, it all felt so normal to not be around others.
How did this new lifestyle change me over the next few years? I slowly learned what true relaxation is all about. I noticed that I stopped feeling so fearful all the time, a feeling I hadn’t even noticed before. The calm and quiet made me realize that our bodies feel the need to be ever vigilant in cities. All of that traffic, noise, over-crowding, and just being around other people constantly, causes us to be ever attentive to who knows what might happen next. Yes, we do still watch the news, which I’m not sure is good for us, but it feels millions of miles away!
I would say retiring to the countryside is particularly pleasant because we don’t need to worry about getting to work and all the stresses of being at work. Certainly, no one is go to fire us. Then the “problem” becomes:
How will I fill my time in a way that satisfies me?
Mike has been a master at solving this problem. He has been waiting his whole life to have the time to pursue various motorcycle and art projects. I have had to learn the fine art of doing nothing, after a lifetime of forced “productiveness.” Now I’m ready to pursue a few new avocations more seriously, like gardening and photography.
One of the best parts of our life now? After a lifetime of moving from place to place constantly, I now know that we will never move again. This is the end of the road for us. and what a lovely end it is!
Before I went to read (The 4 Things That Matter Most in Retirement) an article over at Next Avenue, by an expert on “the difficult transition from work life to an encore career in later life,” I made a list of what matters most to me as I turn 64. What’s on your list?
Health and physical comfort (I live with COPD and quite a bit of pain)
Lack of major worries like physical safety, money, feeling secure, etc.
Being surrounded by love and family
The enjoyment of being present with the natural world that surrounds me
I would want to add a mindfulness and gratitude practice here
I find the author of this article assumes too much, assumptions I made before I hit the ground face first in a serious bike accident and then turned 60. Assumptions like I would feel and be as healthy as I had been most of my life, or that I would be ready to take on a “new career in my third age.”
After a traumatic brain injury and COPD, a second career is out of the question for me. I do continue to write here for two reasons, I enjoy the brain challenge and I like to interact with others in this way. I find one major issue for many as they retire is the desire to “feel useful.” I know some need to feel useful much more than others. This I attribute to early brainwashing that says,
“You have no right to be here unless you are useful or productive in some way.”
Do you remember the first time you felt useful? When was the last time you felt truly useful? Do you need to feel useful to feel good about yourself?
I was raised with a strong work ethic. Feeling useful and especially “productive” has been what my life was about before we retired to rural Colorado in 2014. In the past few years, as my health declined, I fought a hard battle with myself and eventually came to the conclusion that being here and finding ways to be content was enough. Those of you who have the “feel useful” gene know exactly what I’m talking about here. How have you dealt with it?
Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.
A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado by Laura Lee Carter, M.A. Librarianship, History and Transpersonal Counseling, is a book which answers the question: “What’s it like to move to the country to retire?” In June 2014, we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our nice house in suburbia (Fort Collins) and took off to stay in an old miner’s house while we built a direct-gain passive solar home with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristos, just west of Walsenburg in Navajo Ranch, Colorado. It was not without fear and trepidation that we landed here, ready to invest our life savings into Huerfano County, the place of the orphans.
Set in the small coastal town of Hardborough, Suffolk, in 1950s England, Florence Green, a WWII widow, sets her sights on making her home and opening a small bookshop in an old, abandoned property. This has always been her dream. Along the way we observe the ins and outs of being new to a small village much like my own experiences since we moved here in 2014. She does make a few good friends, most notably an old, bookish recluse gentlemen played by one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy (he reminds me of my husband a bit) and a young girl named Christine, who she hires to assist her in her shop.
From the very beginning the scenes in this film remind me of my upbringing and lessons learned. At the beginning Florence has a special dress made to wear to a party put on by one of the richest and most influential local residents, Mrs. Gamart. Her dressmaker convinces her that this red dress is just the thing, in spite of her inner wisdom that says no. At the party Florence is completely uncomfortable and conspicuous in her red attire, reminding me of my Mom’s advice from time immemorial: good girls don’t wear red.
The young girl Florence hires to help her, Christine, reminded me of myself around her age, especially her belief that “boys are repulsive.” In the end, the innocent Florence, who is full of pluck and courage as she pursues her life goal, must learn the hard way how horrible some people can be, reminding me of how appalled I was when I was fired from my final job as a reference librarian at Regis University in 2004.
From the very beginning of this film I was reminded how strongly I feel about promoting intelligence and freedom of information, going back to my first jobs as a Government Information Librarian in the 1980s. I see myself now as a crusader for books, the power of words, writing, knowledge and intelligence. I have found that there can be a tendency, especially in small towns and in rural America, to criticize those who are better educated. This does not serve any of us.
Education is the only way for us to maintain a healthy democracy. Ignorance is NOT bliss.