I’m so excited to be at Coffee + Crumbs today sharing my essay “Never Just Surviving.” Here’s an excerpt:
There’s a rhododendron outside my window. I’m used to rhododendrons being part of the dense forests of my southern childhood—forests cut through with sparkling creeks, dripping hemlocks, and solid oaks. With their twisting branches and sheltering leaves, rhododendrons form the perfect hideaways for games by the creek. This one thrives right outside our suburban bedroom window and reaches its lush, leafy limbs toward our driveway.
The first year we moved in, we were in the middle of painting the bedroom a deep purple-gray when the rhododendron burst into huge, magenta, tissue-paper blooms. I snapped a picture of bright pink blooms framed in the white window and surrounded by the moody purple gray of our walls. That year I had to kick a paint can out of the way to take the picture. Since then, there’s occasionally been a nightstand, a laundry hamper, boxes of maternity clothes, or a changing table there. Every year, I end up taking the same picture because I’m always so startled by the beauty.
My rhododendron ends up blooming right around Mother’s Day. The first year it was ours, I clipped off some blossoms and stuck them in a glass bottle for my mom on her first Mother’s Day as a grandmother. The rhododendron has watched our family grow and change. It is in the photos we snapped as our first son took wobbly steps, pushing his wagon up and down the driveway. It stood there, silently gathering snow as we brought our second son home from the hospital. It has enchanted me with its whispery shadows on the wall as babies turned into toddlers, sleeping beside me in the afternoon light. It has become a favorite hiding spot for two little boys who like to wait in the dusk for their daddy to come home so they can jump out and scare him.
This past year I noticed something strange: some time between the blossoms of spring and the chilly days of autumn, the bush developed huge buds. I wondered if it might be gearing up for a second set of blossoms. But I learned that these buds are the ones the rhododendron will take with it into the winter. I wondered how buds—usually a sign of springtime—could survive the harshness of January. What about these buds makes them able to weather the winter?