Sunday Opinion: A Sense of Balance

It should have been the good news of the week-the clearance from my surgeon to retire my training wheels 30 some days after my knee replacement.  But getting up the nerve to actually turn loose of my secure vehicle for a cane has been a tough go.  After 33 days, I had gotten attached to all of its deluxe features.  Four omnidirectional caster wheels that could turn on a dime, locking handbreaks, a comfortable seat should I suddenly get tired, a sizeable storage compartment-the Hugo-mobile enabled me to safely get from one place to another, even if  I faltered.   I could prop my leg up and ice that new knee just about anywhere.  In the early aftermath, it did indeed keep me aloft.  I didn’t go far, but it was always with me. Buck tells me that later that my physical therapist was patiently instructing me to push it along with my fingertips only; I don’t remember hearing that.  He was not nearly so enchanted with it as I-mainly as he’s been hauling it up and down the stairs every day for the past few weeks.  But he has remarkable patience-at least where I am concerned.

Though I understood the words perfectly that the time had come to move on, I was incredulous that anyone would expect me to ditch my great ride for a stick. Sticks were for placing strategically into spring and fall pots, staking wayward perennials, throwing to Milo, picking up after a storm, unstopping a drainage hole in a pot, or drawing bedlines in prepped soil.  How could I expect that a stick half my height, and one tenth of the size of my leg would keep me upright?

My physical therapist-she was on the front line of all this angst.  Considering how she handled it, I am sure I was not the first person to be dubious about putting their faith in a stick.  She explained that an artificial knee is an incredibly strong gizmo whose design and installation procedure would take your breath away.  It is virtually impossible to break. We did not go over the worst case, we went over what I should do if I fell.  Number one, stay down until you assess your problem-no need to panic, and try to leap up.  Leaping up in the wrong way-that can be bigger trouble than a fall.  We practiced. Good advice for a new knee, or a life-don’t you think? If you are wondering how in the world this relates to gardening or gardeners-I will get to that.  But my quick answer-the challenges that life throws at me, I see in personal terms-and I am very personally, a gardener.

Back to my physical therapist-she explained the weak link in the whole constellation of events was the musculature, charged with keeping a knee in place, that had been in decline all the while I fooled around, putting off what would fix an irreparably deteriorated joint. Muscles that don’t get used atrophy, and waste away.  No kidding they were wasted-the ensuing physical therapy designed to target strengthening those muscles made my hair stand on end-and I have a ways to go yet.

My surgeon wants me to sign up for a month of out-patient physical therapy-a more aggressive program.  I can flex to his satisfaction, and I am off any regular tylenol-this is not typical of his knee people at this stage. He told me that in spite of how I have fast tracked a recovery that he feels fine signing off on, he wants me to sign up for a month of more aggressive PT.  Why?

Gardeners need good strength.  A physical plant that hums along.  The ability to back up on a whim.  The ability to stand and work, on uneven ground.  The ability to swoop down and pluck a weed.  The ability to dig a hole-digging a hole is an art, but it is also hard work, is it not?  The ability to get down and see the crocus sieberi face to face.  The ability to drag a hose, lift a three gallon potted shrub, man an edger-the ability to stand on one’s highest tip toes to prune a broken branch.  I will never play squash, or participate in a ballet, but I need knees to garden.

Yesterday Buck put the stick in my hand; let’s try it, he said.  It took only three steps before I left his arm behind. At first I concentrated on the order of events.  Put the stick out there, move the new knee leg up to it, follow up with the knee that is still working-repeat.  Keep going.  I walked through every room and back again.  The stick-I wasn’t leaning and looming over it.  It just gave me a fingertip point of reference.  I could not believe how good it felt, to be moving under my own steam.  That stick-graceful and unobtrusive.  A stick-a small object of considerable strength, grace, and cache; I have a new appreciation.  The Hugo-I am over it.

I think I understand balance in a new way.  As a designer, I realize that symmetrical  compostions have a great and formal strength.  Formally designed spaces are stable and quiet.  I am a bilaterally symmetrical being that has been balanced for a good many decades-this has not changed.  I was meant to be securely upright, and on my feet. I am in fact back on my feet-this feels so good.  I spent the better part of the day, stretching, and relaxing.  The tension of my worry about the integrity of my balance drained away.  I felt so good today!  I never lost the ability to be on my feet-I had lost confidence.  So much for bilateral symmetry-there is another world out there.

I understand that asymmetrical compositions need to address how elements of unequal weight can be balanced-either by placement, or repetition.  Or how any and all design elements make for balance. Some impossibly balanced compositions provide no end of interaction, and interest.  How nature reaches equilibrium, either in ponds, or climax forests-every gardener knows about this. I am confident in saying to said gardeners that if you physically feel off balance by a composition, that composition is no doubt off balance aesthetically.  Are you comfortable looking, or walking through that garden of yours confidently, securely on your feet?  Does any element seem lonely, or too heavy?

No matter what I intellectually bring to any issue,  I respect the natural course of events.  It is my idea that when I am really old, and not gardening anymore, I could make some drawings regarding my impression of the natural course of events. But for the moment, I am back on my feet and moving-good deal.


  1. Please do not think that because there are not very many responses to your posts that you are unread. I, for one, read religiously and am very happy to see that you are recovering well. I often read them more than once to enjoy your “turn of phrase” and focus again on the point of your post. You have guided me to other blogs, to books and to new ways of thinking. As landscape designer myself, I consider you to be one of my important mentors! Best wishes on a speedy recovery and continued postings!

  2. I voice the same opinion as Maggie. I consider you as one of my most important mentors as well. You have inspired and motivated me in so many ways. Your blog is the first thing I read everyday. I’m so glad to hear you are doing well. Your positive attitude will aid in your fast recovery!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Sheila, I am starting my new PT program today-thanks for the encouragement. And thanks again for the steady reading-I so appreciate that! Deborah

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