September

Midway through summer, wind and rain visited my home during the night. Had I been nervous about a storm, I would have been nervous for my tomato plants. I have two, 2’ x 8’ elevated garden beds tucked around the corner of the back of my house. They are my secret garden. Secret, except my backyard neighbor youngsters can see it. Last summer, the family planted its first home garden. The eldest of the kids was the most excited. She had visions of sweet, juicy, freshly cut watermelon and spicy hot, freshly juiced salsa prancing around in her head. She was also kind enough and consistent enough to ask about my garden that I knew I wasn’t fooling anyone with the secret bit, though I still say it because it sounds magical. 

Most of my slicing tomato plants reside in the elevated, unhidden garden beds. This year, I was forward thinking and included two types of support for most plants: a stake and a cage. If I’m nothing else, I am a lifelong learner. Tomato plants fall, so I came up with a 2-factor solution. A 2-factor solution that didn’t work so well. I have plants hanging on by the hair on their chinny-chin-chins. It’s like a trapeze act.

So the wind and rain came. I woke up the next morning; went outside. I walked around the corner of the house to check on my garden. The tomatoes were rattled, but it’s September, and they are still standing.

What I hadn’t planned for when the storm came was how the Tithonia/Mexican sunflowers would fare. Up until that point, they seemed indestructible. Yes, I know: If you have raised tall plants before, you are well aware of how they enjoy toppling for fun. It’s like a game to them. Part dominoes/part Twister.  But I had five Tithonia plants side-by-side, squished together. It was like a wall of orange.

It was like a crumbling wall of orange. Leaves and limbs were in each other’s faces and bubbles and armpits. I stood staring, thinking.

You aren’t supposed to be there.
And you aren’t supposed to be there.
Where did you even come from?
How am I going to fix this?

I went to the way-back corner of the backyard fence to gather the few remaining tomato wires and a trellis. I also grabbed as many twisty ties as I could find, which ended up being, maybe, four. I went to work. To the best of my ability, I secured leaning towers of plants to objects that really just wanted to fall over with the weight of the gigantic fluffs of flowers. For dramatic effect, I should have held my breath as I slinked out of the Tithonia fence I built. But I just this second thought of that.

Instead, I maneuvered my way out of the garden and headed toward the deck. It was lunchtime, and I was hungry. I took a few steps and turned to look at the job I had accomplished.

It was a mess. A hot mess. The Tithonia plants were bent far enough over to annoy the salmon, orange and pink-colored zinnias down in front. Leaves and limbs were still bouncing all over the place. I sighed. I had planned my flower and vegetable gardens all winter. It was supposed to be the first year in a very long, or ever, time when the flowers would be pretty all season. My goal was to attract gazillions of bees that would pollinate cucumber vines and pepper plants and tomato plants. I had looked forward to raising Monarch caterpillars. In spring, I had dug up my damaged, orange, smells-so-yum, climbing rose. I had emptied bag after bag after bag of dirt, manure (mmm) and humus. I raked. I hurt. I worked.

I wasn’t sure at this point whether or not the Mexican sunflowers would stay standing or even live. I hoped the sun would spark them up. I did realize I was out of solutions.

One more look before I went inside: a hummingbird.

It stopped, midair in front of the dogpile of flora, before flying itself to snack on a beautiful orange flower.

According to PBS, a full meal of nectar will last a hummingbird only about 20 minutes.
words + pictures JULIE JOHNSON

One of the speakers at The Global Leadership Summit in August, I think it was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

With my eyes on the hummingbird, I was taught a lesson. This race I am running – my race, as Stephen, Heather and Julia emphasize in this month’s issue – the movement, the going forward, the verb of it all: Maybe I need to look upon it with a different perspective.

My flower garden is a small little thing, not enough to save a butterfly or bee population. The dream of this magazine causing a positive stir on the world is really very unlikely. Being kind may not return kindness.

A list of commitments to run. A list of easily give up-ables.

The hummy little hummingbird caused me to wonder: What if the purpose of dreaming and building and maintaining and running has less to do with me and more to do with – you?

Could it be possible the simpleness of getting out of bed or the persistence when all else fails, the continuation of hope or the movement of an inch — could it be a gift to a neighbor or loved one or a complete stranger?

A flower that powers a Monarch to reach milkweed so she can lay one more egg.

A writer whose words empower a woman to positively impact her own life. 

A kind act that instigates a chain reaction of loads being lifted off heavy hearts.

If you take in nothing more from this piece, I ask you to listen fully to this: Run. Keep crawling, walking, laboring. Keep moving forward. Rest, but finish.

Purposes are an oddball bunch in that often we aren’t privy to all the ways in which the Lord uses our stories for His glory. Run, Brave One.

Cheering you on,
Julie