The root of the problem

There comes a time in all writers’ lives when, after years of studying the craft and traveling the world to gather new experiences, their art and their career culminate in that kismet moment called “I have aspired to define my generation, and yet here I am, writing about flowers.”

But unlike my peers who have run out of other things to discuss, I have a really good reason for writing about flowers: they’re the closest objects at hand at this particular moment. They’re inspiring me, these marigolds and snapdragons and unidentified volunteer squash plants — and not only with their luscious beauty. They’re also inspiring me with the realization that, by including them as an integral element of this piece, they may become a deductible business expense.

Now, I’m not one of those people who take advantage of our tax system by filing frivolous business expenses. I’m simply preserving my Jefferson-given right to pursue happiness, which, once a year, means I go to the garden center. To do that, I require all the cash I can get.

Garden centers, after all, transform perfectly rational human beings into perfectly irrational ones. I become a man obsessed. It’s like the more living beings I purchase, the more life I myself acquire. Ponce de León looked in all the wrong places for the Fountain of Youth; it exists in every garden center.

Wise people say that the only way money buys happiness is to give it away. Good thing, because I pass through that gate, and money loses all relative value under the influence of that wet dirt smell. I pay real money for pots with holes in the bottom, and I pay extra money for plates to hold whatever leaks and spills out of those holes.

I pay money for special dirt to put in those pots, even though there’s free dirt for sale on Craigslist. And then I pay money for a special vessel to carry water from my sink to these pots — which, I knew all along, would just leak out the bottom anyway.

And then I heap my cart full with plants I’m buying on spec. These plants are not native here, or else I would just dig them up myself. They did not evolve over millions of years to survive in the precise conditions of my front porch. I have no guarantee that these plants will thrive, let alone not die, over the course of a summer of wildfires, heat, too little rain, too much rain, deer, and my neighbor’s weird cat that enjoys eating flowers.

That all assumes I don’t kill them myself. But I don’t let that fear stop me from spending a month’s grocery budget on plants I will never eat, unless I kill and roast that cat. Obviously, though, I don’t hoard flowers for any practical reason. They are not things I need, but they help keep my house from looking abandoned.

I can’t say the same for other things I don’t need in life — things I have already gotten rid of, as a matter of fact, but that somehow keep finding their way back to me. Since you brought it up, one such relic haunting me from my past is a vibrating football game.

This game makes garden-center shopping look like a well-organized activity. You place small plastic football players on a metal field, plug the field into a wall socket, and the figures buzz in circles until they congregate in a clump along the edge of the field. Play goes until you realize, at 8 years old, that your life is worth more than this.

I did not throw away the game, though. I refuse to drop possessions in the garbage if they have any semblance of life in them, because I won’t have clogging our landfills on my conscience. So I make other people take my stuff so they can clog the landfill on their conscience.

That’s why I gave away that game more than two decades ago, to my mom’s friend’s son. Just last week, they texted me to ask if I would like my game back. I decided to change my cell-phone number and pretend I never got the text, because I really don’t want to see that thing ever again.

And that’s when I realized why I enjoy my flowers so much. It’s not for the aesthetic pleasures opening for me at dawn. It’s for the reminder that life is fleeting, and I don’t want to waste my precious life on things like the worst game ever invented. The only certainties for my flowers, as well as myself, are death and taxes. That’s a pretty deductible deduction, if you ask me.

Zach Hively writes from Durango, Colo. He can be read and reached at

From Zach Hively.