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Stop and Smell the Roses

Text by: Christine Pethel

How many people on their deathbed wish they'd spent more time at the office?
-Steven R. Covey
I have a house in Arizona. Not the part of the State that is the hot, sweltering, melt-your-face-off Arizona, and can't-swim-because-your-pool-water-is-too-hot-Arizona. No. This house is situated in an area that is high up in elevation, positioned between two tall, lush mountain passes. In the summer, it rains. In the winter, it snows. But the rain is warm from the monsoons. And the snow only lasts for a day.

Yes, perfect weather for roses. In fact, I have 25 of them. Rose bushes in almost every color, size, and species it seems. Red, pink, yellow, peach, ivory, purple, lavender, and two-toned roses. They line the perimeter of my backyard, keeping company with the three fruit trees (plum, peach, and apricot) and the large creeping jasmine bush that has made its way across the whole backside of the house. I wish I could take credit for these flora beauties, but even if I can rightfully call myself a florist, I have no business calling myself a gardener.

When we first purchased this house, I had no idea how to care for all of this plant life, but for as long as I can remember, it had been part of my imagination to have rose bushes, fruit trees, and creeping jasmine outside my dream home. The only thing missing was a citrus tree to waft its luscious fragrance through my dream kitchen window overlooking the garden. You can imagine my elation when my husband found this darling home. It was as if Fate was handing it to me. So there was absolutely no way I was going to let its splendor die by way of my black thumb.

© Brittany Knotts

But it needed work. Lots of work. There were overgrown weeds that had grown taller than the rose bushes. The grass had wheat shoots as tall as my 7-year-old daughters. And the leaves on the trees looked all but alive. We had purchased the house from an elderly couple that hand-chose us after seeing my excitement over her prized garden (as well as sharing the bond over both having twins). She shared with me her sadness of not being able to care for her garden once her husband had become sick. Not only was it hard for her to do all the work herself, but tending to the garden had also been part of their life's work together, and she just couldn't seem to care for it without him. As she spoke, I was able to look past the tall weeds and dried grass.

So I bought books and consulted the Internet. My husband and I frequented the local garden store so often that they knew us, and our garden, personally. We also made friends with the horticulturalist couple "over the wall" behind our house, and had many-a-conversation standing in our own yards opining about how to trim, feed, and compost the yard. I worked for days on end, and even sometimes into the night. I worked through the sweat and the heat of the summer (and for those of you who know how much I hate to sweat, and hate any sort of heat, then you know how big of a sacrifice that was for me). I'm from California, I thought. Arizona's got nothing on me. So I pushed on. Calluses began forming on my hands, and my knees were becoming rough from kneeling for extended periods of time. But still, I worked on.

After a few months, the soil was fresh and properly fed with minerals and nutrients. I had even started planting a food garden, installing solar-powered garden lights, and setting up a hammock between two of the trees (another dream of mine). I had been so focused on my work that I was even bumping clumsily over the little brick wall to pick out weeds while nine months pregnant.

It was during this time that the same thought kept coming, Why isn't anything growing? I've worked so hard, but nothing is growing. Was this all for nothing?

Then the baby came, and the weeds started growing again. At least they weren't as bad as they had been, I thought. I curbed my anxiety over the thoughts that I wasn't caring for the garden like I needed to and tried to control the thoughts of how much work it was going to take to get it back to the way I had it. I was obviously more sidetracked as I focused on my new baby son, but in the back of my mind the same thoughts kept springing up… All that work for nothing.

And then winter came. Everything was dormant. I had been granted some time. I knew, however, that the minute the last "freeze" was over, I was going back out to salvage what I could. In the meantime, I didn't waste any moment I could find to begin planning my gardening strategy.

It had been those exact plans that I was reciting to my dear friend while standing in my kitchen on a beautiful spring morning in April.

"First I'll need to cut the tall sucker weeds down, because they're stealing all the food from the main bushes. Then I need to check the drip system to make sure none of the nozzles have become clogged. Otherwise, there won't be enough pressure, and the entire system won't work. After that I'll…"

"Christy, come look at this," she said, obviously in a daze as she looked out my kitchen window. She hadn't been listening to a word I said. I didn't know what she was talking about because I hadn't yet looked out the window that morning. When I did, all I saw were weeds, a patch of dead grass, and all the work it was going to take to restore it.

"Don't you see it?" she asked.

"Yeah. A lot of work, isn't it?"

"What? No. Look! Were those there yesterday? The yellow ones."

"Oh yeah. The pink ones, too. I'm not sure why the lavender ones haven't bloomed yet. I've watered them, trimmed them, and even spent time having conversations with them."

There was no response from my friend. She just stared at me with a look of amazement upon her face. "You don't see it, do you? You've been so focused on the work that you haven't even been able to enjoy the beauty."

She took my hand and walked me to the French doors that led out to my backyard. As she opened them, a beautiful, breathtaking, and carefully manicured garden opened up into my view. One that I had never seen before. One that I had seen a thousand times, but never in that way. 25 rose bushes were in full bloom, flowering buds were forming on the branches of the plum, peach, and apricot trees, and the grass was a vibrant carpet of green.

© Brittany Knotts

Who did this? I thought. It wasn't until I realized it had been me. Before, all I saw were the weeds. All I could focus on was the work and the planning. I couldn't see past it to appreciate the beauty of all my hard work.

"Christy, you have worked so hard. Now enjoy it. Don't become so absorbed in the work that you can't, dare I say it, stop and smell the roses."

So that's just what I did. I may have clipped a few weeds here and there, or devoted a Saturday or two with my husband cultivating parts that needed care, but on the other days, I took the time to enjoy it. I bought a little blow-up swimming pool and a bucket of pool toys for my son to play and splash around in. We picked buckets of fresh peaches together and made peach pie. Then, on many days during his naps, it was not uncommon to find myself frequently swinging from the hammock with a good book in hand. And on some days, more often than not, I would close my eyes, listen to the rustling of the trees, feel the fresh air on my skin, and breathe in the fragrance of "life" that was a constant in the air.

While I lay there, the same memory would sometimes cross my mind. It took place when I was the secretary in a high-powered law firm. The attorneys there would work well past closing time, and had already been there hours before I had even begun my day. When I asked them why they worked so much, one replied, "More billable hours means more money in my pocket." I couldn't help but respond, "But when do you actually get to use the money you slave away earning? When do you get to enjoy the rewards of your hard work? You work so much, but you don't even have the time to take a vacation or buy yourself a new 'toy.'" One attorney answered, "I just bought myself a motorcycle, but you're right. I never have the time to ride it."

In this life, there is such beauty to behold simply in our own backyards. But we need to slow down in order to enjoy it. Find joy within the journey. Don't focus so much on the work, or on the future, or anything else that takes you away from being able to notice the exquisite smell of Italian sauces in your own kitchen, or the sight of your little one giggling at a butterfly. Take your time. Enjoy the present. Love the little things. And by all means, stop and smell the roses.