LESSONS FROM THE IRIS

Susan - Lubbock, Texas
Entered on September 5, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: nature, place

The landscape in which my husband and I make our home is a hard place to love. The flatlands of west Texas are brown, hardscrabble, and wind-scoured, and if you’re looking for a place with a spectacular view, you’d have better luck finding it elsewhere.

The first time I planted a garden here, it was in July—the wrong time of year in a geography plagued by extreme heat and lack of rainfall. The list of plants that didn’t live through this folly was mercilessly long. Nonetheless it was instructive, because a few plants did persist, and I paid attention. Now, years later, I have a surprisingly lush garden that requires little care. The equation for success turned out to be simple: plants that belong here, survive here.

Many of the plants in my garden are native wildflowers, but some are not. There are irises that are descendent from rhizomes my grandmother brought from Alabama to New Mexico to give to my mother, and many years later, my mother in turn gave some to me. And now they are rooted in the soil of the Texas plains. I think there is something to be said about a flower that can be transplanted across the generations and from one place to another, and then another, each landscape vastly different from the other. Unlike the flowers in my first garden, irises don’t need to be coddled. I find they grow just fine if I stick them in the ground, water them in that first year, and forget about their care forever after. And each successive spring they reward my benign neglect with rich colors that mirror the evening Texas skies. Irises are content in almost any environment. They aren’t native to this place, but they belong here.

Every year I meet new people at the university where I work who, like me, have come from very different landscapes to live on these plains. I know from experience that some of them will thrive being planted in new soil, while others will not. As I’ve said, it’s a hard land to learn to love, especially if you think that beauty only comes in shades of forest green. But those who are like the irises—persistent, tough, adaptable, happy in most environments—don’t merely survive, they acquire some measure of love for this place and its raw, spare horizon.

Sometimes love is not a sentimental emotion, but a choice you make. Living here, I’ve come to believe that it is a measure of character to love a place that, on the surface at least, appears to be unlovely. If I could have, I might have chosen someplace else as my home, perhaps someplace with a view that is more spectacular. But I landed here, so maybe, in a sense, this hard Texas flatland chose me. And I’ve had my own decision to make as to how I feel about it. I belong here.