Alexandria, VA – As I write this, it is early fall, not winter. (Newspaper columns are submitted a month in advance.) Still, the morning chill as I enjoy coffee in my screen room reminds me that winter is coming soon. At this time of year, I get my plants ready for that cold season, and in a way that helps me prepare to survive the winter too.
I’ve lived in this house in Rose Hill for more than 20 years. Almost all the trees in my backyard were planted in those years. My friend Buffie Brownstein helped me select them and even helped orient them so that when planted, their best sides faced outward. Thank you, Buffie.
Most of the trees came from a nursery. Some are the children of those trees, while a few are volunteers, perhaps from seeds dropped by birds. There’s a mama redbud, the lone survivor of three that I planted from bare roots. It drops seed pods profusely each year. I’ve given away several baby redbuds, and I grew one baby here that seems to be doing well.
I’ve also given away several river birches, seedlings of the mother tree, but I kept two that are growing nicely in a wet corner of the yard. I even nurtured a volunteer crape myrtle in a pot until it was planted in the ground. It’s old enough now that it’s flowering.
I am not a great gardener. If a plant thrives, I divide it and plant its parts in another pot. If it doesn’t survive, I console myself that it’s making room for something else.
Back to overwintering. I thought I wanted to write about the October chores – turning off and draining outdoor faucets, cleaning garden tools, bringing in ferns and the potted orange tree that came to me as a seedling in a baby food jar and is now five feet tall. Now I realize that what I really wanted/needed to write about is my personal overwintering.
I turned 83 this November. How many years are left for me? How many good years? How many more springs will I witness? Though I have nowhere near the energy I used to have, I feel remarkably well. I still mow my lawn and care for my treasured garden. And yet, I am acutely aware that I am in the winter of my life. I’m okay with that realization, although I know I would miss this life if I believed I would have awareness after death.
This week I used the Memory Depot program at the Fairfax County Sherwood Regional Library to scan my Last Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and Advance Medical Directive. I sent digital files to my children. I also sent papers related to the insurance policy covering my cremation and directing that my ashes be scattered along the Memorial Walk at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church.
Ever the meeting coordinator, I included requests for my memorial service—when and where—and what I would like for music and readings. I added a note to the kids promising not to come back to haunt them if they didn’t do it my way.
For more than 30 years, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph and help tell the stories of people who were important in the current history of Alexandria. And it all started because a fellow photography student at Northern Virginia Community College suggested I talk to the then editor of the Alexandria Port Packet, Jim Coldsmith. I took that photography class to reward myself for passing an economics class that was really hard for me. I had no idea photography would become my passion. Thank you, Ruth Witty, for pointing me in that direction.
Most important, I have been blessed with loving family and friends. My New Year’s wish to each of you is that we over-winter well and that with our eyes and hearts open, we witness another spring.
Mosaic artist/photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.