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Free as a Bird
Posted on : March 2, 2015

1. Bluebird on boxNot a month goes by that I don’t evaluate my place on the planet and wonder about my being here. It only takes the slightest nudge to switch my brain into self-contemplation. As if the stubborn end of winter and approaching hope of spring weren’t enough, a series of February events got me to thinking about life in general.

It started with the annual courting of my beloved eastern bluebirds. They typically start finding mates and nest cavities appropriately around Valentine’s Day, but I couldn’t help but notice that love was in the air in late January. It could have been the warm weather, but then again it could have been the fact that they just couldn’t hold love back. Good lesson; don’t wait, love sooner rather than later. There is no more cheerful sound to my heart and soul than the sweet warble of bluebirds. I make a special effort each day to let their happy voices erase those of the selfish, grumbling world around me. Many don’t realize that bluebirds are year round residents in the South. I’d be lost without them. I’m no expert birder, but I pride myself in not missing one note or beat from a bluebird or one of our eight species of woodpeckers here. Bluebirds will be my constant companions beyond the day that I can no longer hear or see.

2. Otie and Co.The next event that stirred my spirit was the death of our old terrier Otie. He was a rescue dog placed with us by my veterinarian brother after outliving his original owner and being stuck in a series of kennels. We never knew his age but he came with the name Old Timer and certainly appeared “long in the tooth.” Though Otie and I never had the bond I got from raising a puppy, I could never help but notice his boundless energy and happy nature. Up until the night before he died when I patted him on the head and said goodbye, he never asked for anything except a ride and to be close to someone. Good bye Sir Otie. I’ll try my best to be happy with my lot in life and just be glad I’m here.

Then came my first ever trip to an outlet mall. Ughhh. I remember seeing the first one pop up along I-35 north of San Antonio, but since I despise shopping I never actually set foot in it or any other. And sure enough, the experience turned out just as I had envisioned. The overwhelming scene consisted of throngs of folks desperate to purchase armloads of products that they don’t really need. After all, how many pairs of shoes does one really have to have? And do teenage boys really need expensive matching ensembles from their caps down to their socks and shoes? That sort of thing wasn’t accepted when I was a kid. Scabs and grass stains were more fashionable back then. It seems the whole world thinks money and the resulting spoils are the answer to happiness and self-worth. The problem is that there is never enough money or stuff to satisfy the craving.

3. Spring bulbsWithout fail, February always brings the heartwarming show from my plethora of heirloom spring bulbs. These almost exclusively consist of hundreds of years old narcissus, jonquils, and daffodils from old family homesites in Arcadia that I have diligently divided year after year since I was a child. No matter what the calendar or thermometer says; I consider it spring when the jonquils bloom. This annual show of fragrant sunshine springing forth from the cold, lifeless ground led me to pen one of my favorite short poems years ago.

The world seems sad,
‘mid winter’s gloom.
But all is well
when the jonquils bloom.

4. Pileated woodpeckerDespite the jonquils and I deeming that spring had arrived, Old Man Winter couldn’t stand our happiness and decided to torment us by raining, sleeting, and snowing on our parade. Unfortunately his most crazy carnival took place on the day I was hosting a spring bulb and trillium tour for my friends with the Texas Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta who were holding their annual meeting in Nacogdoches. With the exception of a few who didn’t make it from Fort Worth and beyond, most got here and grumbled not one word about mud, cold temperatures, or bulbs and trilliums that had been plastered to the ground earlier that day with snow and ice. That’s why gardening is so good for folks. We gardeners know that things don’t always go our way and that we should find beauty all around us. And if we don’t find beauty, we make our own!

5. Zebra SwallowtailAfter selfishly filling in one of my TABGA friends about my latest surgery, they asked how on earth I managed to cope without being defeated or depressed. I told them it was quite easy. I set goals for my life years ago and they had nothing to do with my health (or wealth for that matter). I intentionally picked a purpose in life that was both doable and self-satisfying. With the blood of a teacher and the heart of an artist, I actually find it quite easy. My professional and personal goals are the same: beautification, conservation, education, and restoration. If I share these with others, it makes them happy and me in the process. And just in case I stray and lose sight of these goals, I steer myself back on course with a little daily scavenger hunt. If I hear or see a bluebird, woodpecker, or zebra swallowtail each day I’m happy. Any one of the three means it’s a good day. Two make it a great day. And all three make it a perfect day. Naturally, despite a sideshow of curmudgeonly grumbling to thin the crowds around me, I’m almost always happy on the inside. I can’t imagine how anybody exists any other way. Finding bad stuff in life to be unhappy about is too easy. What’s the accomplishment in that? Seeing the good all around you is a self-satisfying gift that is completely free.

Heck, all the things I have loved the most in life have been free. My birds, bulbs, butterflies, best dogs, and beaucoup others, didn’t cost me a penny. Even the Grinch agrees, “It came without ribbons!… it came without tags!… it came without packages, boxes, or bags!” Bottom line: Make somebody happy. Start with somebody or something other than yourself.

Until next month, be on the lookout for rose rosette disease, crapemyrtle bark scale, and the emerald ash borer—all nasty guys trying to rain on our parade. -Greg

Written by Greg Grant

Greg Grant is an award-winning horticulturist, conservationist, photographer, and writer from Arcadia, Texas. Each month he writes an article for The Arbor Gate Blog where he is given free range to write about any topic that interests him. During the week, he is the Smith County horticulturist in Tyler for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and on the weekends, he and his wife tend Greg’s grandparents’ old farmhouse, his Rebel Eloy Emanis Pine Savanna and Bird Sanctuary, a flock of laying hens, four terriers, one German shepherd, and three cats.

Garden Greg's Ramblings


Kathy Davis |

What a wonderful piece, Greg. I'm printing it off so I can read it again next time I'm feeling down. In the summer months I count it a good day if I have killed a couple of graveyard grasshoppers.

Greg Grant |

Thanks Miss Kathy. A student worker got really upset yesterday when I killed a grasshopper. OK, perhaps I tortured it a bit first. He said in the future they might rule the world and we might worship them. I said NOT THAT ONE! He apologized repeatedly to the carcass. He said they were good to eat too but when I tried to shove it in his mouth he apparently decided to wait for a famine. I took it home to the chickens for a brief worship service.

Riley |

Another great one. Self contemplation...you are a steward of the Earth. A great children's book is "Miss Rumphius" her goal was to leave the world a better place than she found it. I read it to even my 7th graders along with the Lorax...they get it...and will hopefully one day in their grown-up lives appreciate and protect their environment. Happy Spring!!

    anne |

    thanks for the tip on miss rumphious, will get it for myself and grandkids

      Anonymous |

      Thanks for the reminder about that book. I need to read it again.

anne |

Wow, you are a gifted writer & poet, thank you, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Can't imagine someone with such a witty sense of humor also harboring a "curmudgeonly grumbling" as they seem like oil and water. Also, are all the dogs yours? Thanks again!

Greg Grant |

Technically the three dogs on the left (Lizzie the rat terrier, Acer a Jack Russell, and his sister Ilex a Jack Russell) are mine and Mollie (a Jack-Rat) is my mom's. Otie (brown mixed terrier) on the far right passed away. Yes I have a split personality...just like Jack Russells do!

Gudrun |

What a wonderful reminder of how the simple things in life make us the happiest. To me it is seeing any of the wild creatures that live in our garden; watching the curious Carolina wrens search for bugs; hearing the barred owls 'talk' at dusk; and seeing the beautiful golden color the sunset imparts to the garden. And I know spring is definitely on its way when the sassafras blooms. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Always love reading your blogs.

Cheryl |

Wow...what a beautiful piece. Couldn't have come at a better time for me. I always think if I had a little spot of land and just spent my time working in it along with my animals I could be completely happy. However, I'm not able to be in that situation so I often get a bit grumbly. It always comes back to perspective and choosing to find the good and to find contentment, even if I have to live on a small space in an area that is now in a constant state of construction and change. "...I’m almost always happy on the inside. I can’t imagine how anybody exists any other way. Finding bad stuff in life to be unhappy about is too easy. What’s the accomplishment in that? Seeing the good all around you is a self-satisfying gift that is completely free." What's the accomplishment in that indeed! Now, off to find that free gift...seeing the good.

Celia |

Pretty inspirational thoughts from a self-proclaimed curmudgeon . Loved this.