Magnolias Image courtesy of Stephanie Urdang
By Stephanie Urdang

The first “nature run” Ron Canal and I made together was to a house we rented in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in the mid ’80s. The generous owners were traveling and had included their funky blue station wagon for the weekend. It was a well-known fact that the previous resident of the house had died of lung cancer from ground radon seeping in through the basement…but we wanted away from the heat and particular smells of summer in New York City.

When we hit the first tollbooth, all our cash was packed in the back. As I climbed over two rows of seats, cars lined up behind us, drivers honking for us to get a move on. Upon presenting a $20 bill for a 10-cent toll, I leaned toward the attendant and said, “We’re totally unprepared for everything.”

The weekend resulted in nausea, swarms of mosquitoes, dead fish the size of hippos where we tried to enter the Delaware for a dip, and a vast conglomerate of the natural world — everything but what we were seeking. A genteel version of nature was more our style: horticulture, to be precise, which is what led to our introduction. Ron walked into the plant store I supposedly managed, looking for a job. Because of his boom and twang the size of his home state of Texas, I took a step back. But the boss hired him, and within days we were hanging out in situations in which a manager and employee should never find themselves (think drinking and driving the company vehicle without the funds between us to cover our evening’s consumptions).

By now, we understand more about each other than our blood relatives ever will. One thing they do know for absolute certain about Ron and I is to never go to The New York Botanical Garden with us. Two nature nerds can take a long time absorbing a glorious blooming cherry tree, or the rise of a hill, before the ecstasy dissipates.

%name Frequencity: Inhaling Magnolias While We Can
Image courtesy of Stephanie Urdang

We photograph the same specimens every visit as if we’d never seen them. It’s so bad that in the gift shop after a fall garden stroll, Ron called me over and said, “Look at this one, Steph.” It took me a second to realize what I was seeing: he’d taken a photo of a photograph, complete with text, right out of a garden book.

I like to think we’ve grown up, or are at least more prepared. We’ve been through broken hearts and weeping cherries, fractured and mended bones, a few surgeries, several births, and the deaths of three parents, too many friends, and a few beloved animals. We’ve stepped foot on a number of continents, traveled by boat hundreds of miles, ridden bikes along the Danube, through Austrian vineyards in the Fall, and visited world famous botanical gardens.

Last October, with the power vested in me by the State of New York, I performed Ron and Tonee Ferringo’s wedding ceremony. Ordained for the purpose of my healing practice, I hadn’t planned on doing marriages, but when asked to officiate, it was a given. They waited until it was legal for same-sex couples to get married here, and then created a love-fest celebration with friends and family from all over the continent.

%name Frequencity: Inhaling Magnolias While We Can
Image courtesy of Tonee Ferringo and Ron Canal

It’s been 29 years since Ron and I met — multiplied by four, and that is a daunting 116 seasons. With all the changes we’ve gone through, Ron is still in horticulture. He designs the garden for the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and decorates their life-sized outdoor Christmas dinosaurs every year. The City’s rooftops, terraces, and plots are more beautiful because of his life-long passion and his New York-based business, Canal Gardens.

I keep my fingers in the soil by growing orchids and succulents. While at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden last week, inhaling magnolias, I told Ron I wanted to expand into the art of the bonsai, and said, “I suppose I’d better get started soon.”

“Tick tock, Steph,” he replied. “That’s like you know who (he whispered a name from our past) announcing he was going to become a prostitute at the age of 50.”