Saturday, May 16, 2015


Moved into the house more than a decade ago, and there was a row of shrubs along the front yard. Juniper, azalea, evil barberry, azalea, juniper. Repeat on the opposite side.

Thing is, junipers and barberries grow like freaking Jack's beanstalk, and azaleas just hum along, minding their own business. A couple of summers in, the azaleas were getting choked out. The third summer, two of the four had been strangled by the plants on either side.

The surviving two were moved to the side of the house, where they limped along that summer. Sometime during the winter, the third one croaked.

More than ten years later, the last one will not give up. I thought for sure it was kaput this year, after two brutal winters.

Think again.
Azaleas are hearty and can live a stupid long time under ideal conditions. But the fact that the fourth one has lived longer than the other three combined affords it a lot of respect. Even if it were not pretty---and it is, when in full May bloom, and a pleasant green all summer long---I would want to protect and nourish this plant. But it doesn't seem to need much help. It's hanging in there pretty much on its own.

Funny how the last anything of a set will seem to last the longest. Everyone's kitchen cabinet probably has several solo glasses, each from a once-proud set of four. The first three in the set fell quickly to incidents and accidents, spills and chills, but the last glass hangs on and on.

I'm not sure if there's a lesson there, beyond that survival does command respect of a kind, even from things you don't much like, like cockroaches. The gristly actor who waits tables in his 60s, expecting to hear from his agent... The elderly woman who still trudges down the sidewalk to the market every day, rain or shine, whether she needs anything or not... The old guy in the last desk on the row, who people think will still be in that spot for decades, even if the building is destroyed in an earthquake, tapping away on his keyboard, his bit of floor held up by a ragged spire of rubble... Tenacity is admirable.

When it's something as pleasant as a flowering shrub, what's not to admire?

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