The alchemy of B-

It’s spring and despite my devotion to being B- I am very happy to say my garden is feeling very A+ right now. Three years ago, this space was red clay dirt and eleven–yes, eleven!–azaleas that had grown so large and enmeshed, they looked like Little Shop of Horrors (with flowers). I finally have my footing as a new gardener, but the truth is that I approached the entire venture as “an experiment.” 

Translation: my garden started with a B- attitude, too.

The result? Joy, health, food, fun, and a morning ritual with my child I wouldn’t trade for all the A+’s in the world. Each day as we let the cats out to greet the morning, River and I go “check on our friends,” the plants. Sometimes he’s still jammied-up and grabs a coat and his mud boots. Other times he’s already dressed for the day. Regardless, I’ve got my coffee in-hand and we make our rounds: first the six narrow rows, then the 27 buckets, then the side-bank of cast offs and volunteers; a few sniffs and nibbles of sage, thyme, spearmint, and lavender; then down to the wildflower bed and around to the lower edging with columbine, helbora, crocosmia, sedum, deslosperma, and astilbe.

Oh, and don’t forget the new raspberry transplants, the struggling fig sapling (thanks, deer), and the morning glories! And look Mom, the tutti frutti lupines are up and the snow cones are taller and the lithodora is reaching over the steps! Yes, I say to my boy. Yes and yes and yes!

But back to those morning glories, my son implores. How does the vine find its way to the trellis?

It’s a good question! This is how I first taught River the word alchemy. I explained that yes, there is a scientific explanation for a plant’s “knowing”…a way to articulate how it reaches through the air, weightless and seeming without effort, landing in the right place. But I also told him that for everything we “know” and look up and learn from books, there are ten thousand mysteries inviting us to imagine more deeply. One of those mysteries is the mystery of alchemy. It’s a basic explanation of a vast concept, but he knows the word for it now and he’s not the only one who enjoys pondering.

Veggies, herbs, and flowers tended, we usually head back inside to pee (actually, we just pee in the yard, but I quickly duck inside to get more coffee), then meander down to the wine cap mushroom beds with baskets and pocket knives at the ready.

The result of our harvests? Probably 12 cups of various greens every four days, more pounds of mushrooms than I’ve ever harvested in my life (7 pounds in one day last week!), a few vases-worth of wildflowers cut, and a whole lot of happy dirt under our fingernails. And it’s only May! I confess I’m nearly beside myself with plant bliss. Starting each day with such vivid abundance feels beyond fortunate; it feels miraculous.

If B- can turn into A+, or if overcrowded azaleas can turn into a garden that feeds a family, that’s alchemy, too. If I tried to write instructions on how to do whatever I did the past three years, that list would be incomplete. Why? Because the very nature of living B- means leaving space for the unknown…inviting it, even. So far, I’m finding that relaxation, discovery, and compassion leap into that playground of new space. I don’t know about you, but I can always use more of those three things in my life. In fact, they’re basically what it feels like my remaining life’s work needs to be: chill the eff out, open my thinking, and open my heart. Read on for your “hit reply” provocations along these lines. You’ll find them at the end of this newsletter.


Hit Reply Questions by contacting me here:

  • Where in your life do you find yourself most open to mystery, or the unknown?
  • Where in your life do you wish you could open up more to mystery?
  • How do you experience alchemy in day-to-day life? If you don’t experience it, where do you see space to invite a little magic and mystery?
  • How might your answers to the above inform your writing? If you write fiction, how do you take your characters to the edge of mystery? If you write nonfiction, have you captured moments from your own life when you met the unknown, and came out the other side with a changed view?
  • What started out as B- and turned into a joyful, perhaps accidental, A+ for you? For your writing? What did that teach you?


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