Bonner Day: Just as in rose gardening, much of living is waiting

“I have to watch the river,
To see it doesn’t stop,
And stick around the roses
So they’ll know when to pop.”
                                             – Johnny Burke

Red knockouts and pink Queen Elizabeths surround Bonnie Day, the wife of guest columnist Bonner Day. Courtesy photo

The Shenandoah River is very famous to be so short. It seems to be always beyond the next hill, hiding like a shy sister.

After the two branches join to become the Shenandoah itself, it is only 55.6 miles long. The north and south branches, in fact, are longer, 100-plus miles each. The Mississippi, in contrast, is 2,340 miles long.

But in American history, the Shenandoah shines like no other. And it flows through some of America’s most beautiful country, in the eyes of Shenandoah Valley residents and visitors alike.

By one tradition, it was named by George Washington, who wanted to honor Chief Shenendoah (a different spelling) of the Oneida Tribe. The chief was a New York State Indian. The term Native American had not yet been invented. I am not sure which term the chief would have preferred.

Another tradition is that Shenandoah is a Native American Indian name meaning Daughter of the Stars. But actual facts are not usually so romantic and I prefer the Washington story. I can’t picture a Native American chief going by the name of Daughter of the Stars, or Daughter for short.

The chief, incidentally, is supposed to have approved one of the oldest treaties with the United States. The two parties joined hands before any civilized nation dared to recognize the continental states. You might say Chief Shenendoah respected us when King George III was still calling us rabble.

The Shenandoah River has a personality of its own. For the most part it flows out of towns, and the seeker has to look for it with access roads or at bridges. It begins north of Front Royal and slips along modestly to Winchester. Most of us can spot the North Fork in Shenandoah County, if we look for it. Of course, it supplies most of the northern valley’s good drinking water.

By the way, I’m sticking by the roses like the song says, and it seems to be doing some good as they have finally begun to “pop.” This spring has been cold and wet. While the rains have caused the rose bushes to leaf out profusely, the lack of sun delayed the appearance of the rose buds by several weeks.

A late frost, I believe, was a major factor slowing the blooms. As of mid-May we had yet to see them bloom. And my rose bushes, as a result of the freeze, show two stages of spring growth. The lower parts are leafed out and green already. The upper parts, following the freeze, consist of new red growth and buds.

And as the roses come, can the Japanese beetle be far behind? These oriental immigrants always seem to come two weeks before I realize.

But that is life. While you wait to greet the good things, the bad things slip up and bite you.

Just as in rose gardening, much of living is waiting. Then when the waiting is over, you realize the time living was bigger and better than the event awaited. The poet warned not to look for tomorrow because it can become yesterday before you know it.

Chief Shenendoah was as dependable as his namesake river. He signed the treaty, then led his braves to fight against the British. He didn’t win the war by himself, but his contribution was appreciated and rewarded. The U.S. every year still gives the tribe the agreed-upon bolts of cloth.

Would that my roses were as reliable. I never know when they will bloom, or suddenly be ambushed by the insect world.

Rivers are forever and more reliable than roses. But roses do not hide behind bends, hills and foliage. They stare at you coquettishly, moving your heart the moment you let your guard down.

Bonner Day moved to the valley 14 years ago. He raises cattle and tries to grow roses.