A few mornings ago, I had my coffee on the roof of my house. The morning began as usual, with David handing me coffee on the porch and our enjoying the peaceful privacy of our jungle-like backyard before facing the day. We were discussing the progress we’ve made in planting, weeding and restructuring the front yard, and now, looking at the wild, overgrown back yard (which we haven’t had the time or resources to attend to, and won’t for a while) we started discussing options for what we will do someday. We both agreed that the best thing was probably going to be to clear out the mass of bromeliads and overgrown plants (since they obviously will never bloom and are way out of proportion) and start from scratch. We threw out ideas for stone patios verses more rustic mulched pathways filled with patches of Irish moss (his favorite), and whether we could and should create sculpted tiers, remove the awkward “extra” tree that cuts out the sun to make room for a covered arbor, and what we might want to plant in the shade under our favored, huge tree even now, just to make the back yard somewhat presentable until we can do a major overhaul.
And all of a sudden, David turned to me and said, “Let’s go have coffee on the roof so we can get a better view of things.”
I thought he was kidding until he added, “I’ve got the ladder all set up. Put on some shoes and let’s go.”
Far be it from me to say no to an adventure. I put on my shoes while he refilled our coffee cups and followed him outside. He zipped up the ladder with one hand balancing his coffee as if it was nothing and gestured for me to follow him.
I took a step or two up the ladder, but wobbled and paused. Before I could voice my nervous-nelly concerns, he came down, took my coffee and led the way, now holding two cups, and thus climbing the ladder with no hands for support at all. I slowly followed, shaky and wimpy. I put my knees on the gravely surface of the roof and crawled forward as he walked upright, reaching his free hand out to support me to give me confidence. (He maneuvered with such ease and comfort you’d think he was a goat in his previous life. That or having size 13 feet and a history of flying is key to ultimate comfort high up in the air.) He took a few pictures with his phone and gestured grandly, no worries about balance.
I said, “Be careful. People fall off of roofs, ya know and the gravely feel of these singles makes me think a person could easy to slip.”
He chuckled. “Please. This roof is only 5 and 11. Not steep.”
“How do you know this roof is 5 and 11. It might be 6 and 12… what do the numbers mean anyway…..”
He explained how the numbers define the slant when roofs are measured then said, “I’ve been on plenty of roofs. So many that I can tell pitch of any roof by looking at it, but even if I couldn’t, I did the building inspection for this house and measured this roof when I checked everything else. So I know this roof is average, 5 and 11, and a very safe, sturdy roof. Remember, I’ve been up here to clean gutters, sweep leaves and to check out our tree more than once. I couldn’t fall off a roof this flat even if it was windy and wet and and today is beautiful.”
Since it was obvious his lecture wasn’t enough to get me to stand upright, he came and sat next to me. We sat a few minutes in silence admiring the blue sky, the gentle breeze and the way the sun glinted through the branches of our massive, beloved oak, and he gave me my daily nature lesson.
David is forever teaching me about plants and gardening. He is not only deeply intellectual with a bottomless reserve of information about how the world works, but he is a master gardener, having received his certification while living in North Carolina. (Becoming a master gardener involves 6 months of 16 hours a week of classroom training as well as home reading and study, and a year of public service. David designed and implemented a public garden for handicapped individuals – wheelchair assessable – and then worked as a free consultant helping people & businesses maintain successful gardens.)
To say David knows more about gardening than I is the understatement of the century. Nevertheless, David continually holds back from taking over the planning and planting in our yard, inviting me to take pleasure in the artistic process and encouraging me to learn as I go – even though this means a less perfect result than we’d have if he took over the landscaping project himself (and let me remind you that he dearly loves gardening, so I am humbled by his sacrifice in forfeiting the pleasures of outdoor artistry to share the process with me).
Anyway, I am endlessly amazed at his lack of ego or effort to control our home, money, ME, work, family situations, our garden, and life in general…. He is active and involved, doing his part and beyond, but he doesn’t need credit or attention, and he has no need to be controlling and it would never occur to him to cut me out of decisions or input…. Yet at the same time, he is not without opinion or advice or a sincere interest (and appreciation) in how our landscaping evolves. He is readily available with answers if I have questions, is there to do any of the work I may not want to do myself, and he is never, ever critical of my experiments or choices, however amateur they may be. He has taught me about plants and soil and pruning and more and I’ve discovered gardening is such a pleasure this way, when you share the work and the joy.
The first time I went out and planted a dozen plants without waiting for his advice (he was at work) he came home and simply said, “You planted the avocado tree you gave me for valentine’s day? I don’t suppose you thought to prune the root ball … the preparation is really important for a tree that size to be healthy and get established for long term stability and production… and that particular plant was rather special to me…..”
I was like, “Um… you want to know if I pruned the root ball? I would have if I knew what a root ball was. I guess I shouldn’t have planted your tree. I just dug a hold and stuck it in the ground. I thought I was saving you the trouble, and trust me, digging a hold that big wasn’t easy. I’m sorry…..are you annoyed?”
He smiled and said, “How can I get annoyed at you for being outside in the hot sun, working hard on our yard. I know how much you’ve missed your land in Georgia and you are trying to do some of the grunt work around here so I don’t have to . . . But, well…. next time, perhaps you’ll wait for me to do the big plants just to be sure they’ll take…. Especially when they are a gift …..”
I got the respectful message he was trying to share loud and clear. Hands off David’s special plants….because he is too giving and supportive to ever voice objection, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t disappointed when I cross certain boundaries…
Anyway, there we were on the roof. David carefully pointed out four different types of clinging vines weaving through the heavy branches of the tree, explaining their origins and unique qualities. He guessed the age of the vines and how prehistoric they looked and talked about perserving them when we got around to building our future tree house
. He discussed how we might want to design levels for the base of the structure or keep it one room, and showed me places where the big limbs of the tree branch apart and create stress joints.
He ointed out a redheaded woodpecker in the distance and a lizard up on a limb 20 feet above the ground. We discussed views and hopes for the long term for our home and life. We moved on to talk about his work and my studio and the boat he is trying to sell and whether or not I should throw out our lovebird’s eggs since they don’t seem as if they are going to hatch.
We sat long after our coffee cups were empty. Our hearts and minds were full… full of ideas and lofty plans and inspiration and problem solving in regards to how and when we might act on all the things we discussed, because every good idea needs a bit of muscle, discipline and commitment to make a reality ….. talk is inspirational and fun, but we both know talk and action are two very different things…
Anyway, now hungry for breakfast, we climbed off the roof. David gracefully zipped down the ladder with ease; I moseyed along awkwardly after him, like a manatee swimming in Jell-O. And as I touched my toes back to the back porch, I thought, it is nice to have my feet firmly planted on the ground again…
And that, my friend, had nothing to do with the fact that I had coffee up on the roof….