So here we are again with a new year. This naturally means reflection to many. It’s human nature to look both back and forward. There are always the bad and sad to package and store away, but I find it best not to dwell on them. I got my second new hip (thank goodness I only have two) for Christmas 2015, so spent the early part of 2016 “breaking” it in. I wish I didn’t have a bionic neck and hips but I do, so that’s that. We move on and make the best of it.

I spent all of 2016 trying to wrap up The Rose Rustlers book with Dr. Welch. Digging up 30-year old information is a chore and writing a book with someone else (especially three hours away) is even more of a chore. But we got it done and look forward to Texas A&M University Press hopefully having it published and available in 2017. The book is full of personally stories. As you know, I was born to tell stories.

As I sit here writing, in a messy bedroom waiting to be remodeled a bit, I listen to my regular soothing morning music of my beloved Eastern bluebirds; with the usual raucous Carolina wren, Eastern phoebe, and Carolina chickadees demanding their due. One morning this week it was a barred owl questioning, “Who cook for you? Who cook for you all?”

I’ve been sick with a nasty case of bronchitis for two weeks now and I’m tired of it. I peer out the door and see a messy porch covered with muddy dog prints, huge dead tomato plants in my back garden, and frozen perennials in my border that need cutting back. Uuggghh. Another new year and the work never ends. Why do we do it? Why plant if it’s going to just die? Why mop if it’s going to get dirty again? Why be happy if you know something sad will eventually find its way home? Because that’s what life is. Life is chaos. Life is messy. Heck, life is death!

But life is also beautiful, inspirational, and an opportunity to make a difference. Everybody needs inspiration. It’s everywhere, just waiting to serve. I’ve always found my inspiration in nature since all the lessons I need to cope with life are there and always have been.

As a matter of fact, I’ve long dreamed of seeing a school based on nature and gardening. I can easily see it teaching math, all the sciences, art, literature, and anything else taught in today’s schools. The cool thing about it would be that all the kids would learn “hands on” in an indoor/outdoor setting. Everything learned would be applied. I would have LOVED that growing up. They would grow and forage for their own food and learn to prepare it. They would study the biology, evolution, and chemical analysis of everything they ate. They would learn every tree, every flower and every weed; where they came from, how they are used, and what inspiration they provided to writers, artists, and musicians. I would have them learn environmental stewardship and the cycles of life. They could listen to the calls of nature and learn who was calling and why. They could stare at the stars and night and learn their names and their constellations. They would paint pictures, design and build outdoor classrooms, and learn that spiders, bees, wasps, lizards, and toads feed on insects, not humans. They would find out that snakes are not evil.

They would learn that though sad; disease, disaster, and even death, are part of nature; each creating more life in the process. Early in my life I was traumatized by the death of loved one. Heck I’m traumatized by the death of my pets! But spending most of my life in the garden and the forest taught me that there are just as many things dying every day as living. Yin and yang. That’s the way it works.

One of my master gardener interns and I were talking about our mutual love of bluebirds this week. I told her I loved all cavity dwelling birds, especially woodpeckers. She was surprised and said “Even knowing what they do to your trees?” I quickly let her know that woodpeckers didn’t kill trees. They SAVE trees. Woodpeckers evolved to not only eat the insects that kill trees but to create cavities in dead trees for secondary cavity dwellers unable to create their own homes. This beneficiary list includes bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, American kestrels, wood ducks, flying squirrels, and many others. Without insects and dead trees, there wouldn’t be woodpeckers. Without woodpeckers, there wouldn’t be bluebirds. And without dead everything we wouldn’t have compost and rebirth. You know—the circle of life.

It’s human nature that we historically focus more on life than death. This is how evergreens became popular during winter celebrations and how pomegranates bursting with seeds became symbols of fertility. This is why we pot up paperwhites and amaryllis to wait out the winter with us.

It’s easy for new gardeners to want everything to be perfect and pretty all the time, but it doesn’t work like that, nor should it. Beautiful pictures of pristine flowers and tidy landscapes are nice, but never forget that insects, disease, dead leaves, rotted wood, dormant bulbs, and ever changing seasons and scenes are just as much a part of the picture.

Here’s hoping your 2017 will be full of hope, happiness, and health. But if it’s not, don’t sweat it. Just be glad you had the opportunity to see a bird and plant a seed. -Greg