Last week Bill Kurtis used his Splash page in the Sun Times to ballyhoo the ecology of the Midwestern Prairie. Far be it from me to draw inspiration from this fluffy tabloid feature- but Bill’s ode to prairies struck me. I cut it out and returned to it over and over. Not because I am planning a garden overhaul…..
I have failed at planting or maintaining indigenous flowers. The Wolf Road Prairie, or what is left of it, is near my home. I am in the bundle of unenlightened folks for whom this tangle of wildlife looks like a dogpatch of weeds. I have no plans to start an echinacea crop.
But Bill captivated me with his romantic description of the pluck that prairie plantings demonstrate. “In order to survive scorching wildfires that left the Earth bare and black, buffalo grazing that stomped the prairie plants to dust and finally, drought that incinerated them, they worked out a plan with nature. They reversed their life force and sent it deep into the soil through their roots. I mean 10 and 15 feet deep, down where they could still nurse the nutrients until the cataclysm blew over. Next season, they rose again stronger than ever. ” Those words struck me as a fine metaphor for creating a sturdy marriage.
Thirty four years ago, I plunked down new, tentative roots with Steve. Little by little, they burrowed into a new landscape. We learned to support each other when things were blustery. We grew more determined to be anchored and strong as we became responsible for three little lives. We nourished these roots by learning to speak with respect, avoiding cruel confrontations. We failed sometimes. But we kept at it. When Steve stopped drinking, the substrate became far more reliable. Our natural disasters-parents dying, teenaged rebellion, job losses, health challenges- were more readily managed in tandem. Sure, there were hurdles that jangled the peace. Life is messy, we are human. We forgive each other. We move on.
Like those wildflowers, we are not always a pretty organism. I have had bad perms and bad clothes. To torment the floral metaphor, I am well past the blossoming phase, and trying like hell to stay off the wither/die trajectory. Steve has had sweat pants years, bad optometric stylings, and flyaway hair. He snores. He has been very overweight. And in all the years we have been married, Steve has never once told me I looked bad. I have never called him fat. I did, and he was. But such unkindness is tantamount to Round Up on the prairie. Even sturdy and deep roots can be poisoned.
Steve and I have a hardwired partnership now, but we still work at this marriage business. It is our daily choice to love. Some days this election is harder than others. That is when we head to the reserves under the surface: our shared history, joy in our family, euphoria over grandchildren, gratitude for the doubling of happiness in life. I know that despite his rascal days, he has tamed himself so he can be a great husband and father. He chose me 30 some years ago because I am determined and flexible…just like those raggedy prairie flowers. Bill knew what he was talking about when he said strong foundations can overcome cataclysms. Here we are…
Somedays I watch our newly married son, and I pray that he and his wife are learning the language that expresses commitment and support. I hope they are also learning the equally crucial skill of editing and suppressing petty thoughts. The first years are exciting and novel, and may not require deep roots, but establishing them will tip the odds in favor of a long, loving life.
My older boys are navigating the baby days- in Bill Kurtis’ world, that is like a buffalo stomping on the flower tops, while carrying seeds in their fur to extend the garden. Things change so much, so fast…love binds chaos with joy. It is time to dig in. New parents face stress with diminished sleep and strength. But they have to make time for the marriage; this is the bedrock of life.
Steve and I are proud to have navigated these 34 years and stayed married. We may celebrate a bit, or we may just crash Matt’s housewarming party and celebrate his new marriage again. On Sunday, I will be celebrating Kathryn and Mike’s baby at a shower. The Dahl Prairie may look unkempt on the surface, but we are tethered by vigorously tended and fertilized roots. We are ready for whatever life hands us.
As for drought, famine, pestilence and fire- feel free to stay away. I like my prairie lush and wild. But come what may, we will always try to rise again, stronger than ever. That is the promise we made 34 years ago in Royal Oak, Michigan, and one we try to live by, one day at a time.
Happy Anniversary to my husband. Long may we grow.