grumpy about memorial day

We spent most of the Memorial Day weekend gardening. I don’t go in much for token remembrance days, and I don’t feel like spending just one day out of the year glumly remembering fallen soldiers. I feel that we should remember their ultimate sacrifice every day, rubbing our noses in it repeatedly and thinking hard about whether the wars we wage — justified or based on lies — are really worth the lives of the boys and girls we send to kill and die in them.

Instead of focusing on truisms, I prefer to honor the dead by simply embracing life, even as I struggle to grasp the horrible reality of soldiers dying in battle. Hence gardening. At this time of year, it’s a life-affirming labor. Anthony and I dug and split plants, thereby re-enacting the fish-and-bread miracle (gardeners’ edition). We effected a different kind of miracle by relocating a couple dozen volunteer hellebore seedlings from under the parents, our beloved plants spreading around the yard like a mushroom cloud. As we weeded here and there, we spied out rare trilliums, less-rare jack-in-the-pulpits, dainty lilies-of-the-valley, and many other untended treasures. Jesse and Anthony filled our pots with a lively array of annuals. We discovered baby chickadees nested in a deep dark hole on an old stump. We could barely make them out, so we used a flashlight to give the kids a better view of new life finding shelter in a dead thing. The wee babies stared up at us in frightened and curious silence, while the parents squawked their helpless ire from high in nearby trees.

The kids came outside Monday just as a long breeze blew a cloud of white petals off our apple tree. The petals flew thick through the air like snowfall. Nick burst into laughter as he ran to the tree with his arms raised, yelling in noisy wonder about “all the flowers in the air!!” Jesse joined the chase with more peals of laughter. It was very beautiful. I took a break from the hopeless task of getting creeping charlie out of our lawn by hand, watching quietly as my kids reveled in this simple and extraordinary moment. I was surprised to find that my mind was filled with one word, a mantra. “LIFE.” My heart tied up in achy knots. I don’t have a fully realized word for the feeling, but I think I was happy.

Anthony also found the dead chipmunk in the attic that was making our garage stink. He brought it out but it was really stuck to the big garbage bag it died on, so he left it in the open air next to the garage. Maybe a coyote or raccoon will come by and get some sustenance from it. We found a dead goldfinch under the bird feeder, with no obvious signs of why it died. Before I tossed it into the woods, Jesse wanted to see if its head was missing, because for some reason this spring she’s seen several headless (dead) ducks along Lake Michigan. I saw a tiny dead field mouse next to the road on a dog walk this weekend, no signs of trauma. The wild animals are struggling this spring, after a bitter arctic winter. Life and death are all tangled up together, as usual.

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