“Willy-nilly” – in a haphazard or spontaneous manner  ~ The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'

Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’

Yesterday, the warmth and sunshine of a beautiful April day lingered into evening, a perfect time to work in the garden. I had an agenda, a list – prune the roses, rake the leaves, pull the weeds. I pruned the blackened branches of roses that were damaged by a harsh winter and was delighted to discover green growth at the roots. That was as far down the list as I got. I paused to smell the wind carrying the scent of spring, I watched a pair of robins argue over territory, and my feet wandered over the paths drawn to bits of green and blue and yellow arising from the ground.

Rose hellebore

Rose hellebore

The “to do” list was forgotten and I moved willy-nilly through the garden, meandering, clipping here and there as I went, without plan or order. At work, I am the planner, the doer, the architect of outcomes. But on entering the garden, the plan became a burden that I happily surrendered. I shilly-shallied through a garden lit by golden evening light, my ears open to bird song while my fingers stroked the tender new leaves emerging from the earth. I began to dream instead of plan, I began to imagine instead of control, I began to be instead of act.

Daffodil 'Verdant Meadow'

Daffodil ‘Verdant Meadow’

After a few hours of meandering with snippers in hand, caught up in the magic of a gentle spring evening, I discovered that my hands had pruned the hydrangeas, weeded the garden beds and cleared last year’s leaves from the stone steps. The garden was clear of debris and ready to grow. My orderly list of chores was somehow accomplished as part of a relaxed ramble, an afterthought to the real business of connecting with the magical world around me. Perhaps I need a little more willy-nilly time and allow myself to be a dreamer and a sillyheart more often.

“I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart.” ~ Uncle Buck

34 thoughts on “Willy-nilly

  1. Willy-nilly is an interesting expression. An earlier form, will ye, nill ye, makes the original meaning clearer, at least once we know that nill was a contraction of the old negative ne and the verb will. The sense, therefore, was originally ‘whether you will it or don’t will it.’ Later speakers added the second sense of ‘haphazard.’

    • Hi Steve! As always, thanks for adding your contribution on the origins of a word or phrase. I read the etymology of willy-nilly with great fascination before using the later meaning for the purposes of this post. I know a very funny story of a professor using “snafu” to defend a colleague in a grievance suit; etymology was his strong suit.

  2. Your willy-nilly, relaxed ramble of silly shallying through your garden has rhythmic overtones – am I surprised? No. I could feel all that release of purposefulness, as you turned your agenda over to the garden’s whims: a grand design that always changes. Nice to see you again!

  3. Much the same willy-nilly-ness went on in my yard. We freakishly, had temps in mid twenties. Still no buds on anything yet. Tulips just starting nose around for warmth. This past winter was a traditional winter, one we have not had in 15 years or more.

  4. I love it when wonder and mystery pull me in…I’m nestled deeply within a passion and time seems to dissolve…you’ve captured that so perfectly, Lynn! It’s always so delightful to gentle myself out from such a magical space and discover that my body was merrily accomplishing tasks while my spirit was filled and playfully bounced and floated in a blessed lightness…These are by far my most healing times, and I’m sooooo looking forward to garden time this year…we’ve had a few tempting days, but it’s turning quite chilly–below freezing–again, so the waiting continues. Thank goodness for cameras and cooking and treasure-hunting and other ways I can feed the need to be! 🙂 Joy to all the blooms and pruning the season may (eventually) offer you.

    • Kitty, your ability to move into that state is always so present in your writing, something I recognize as the kindred spirit we share. Snow is predicted here for Tuesday! Hopefully gone by Thursday, when I am on Easter break and planning to live in the garden most of each day. Happy gardening to come for you too!

  5. Time just drifts away in the garden…chores are never work…just an opportunity for the mind to drift and the soul to soak it all up effortlessly. I’m glad that your spring has finally arrived!

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