09 Mar Lessons from the ground.
On Sunday it was Mother’s day.
I asked for one thing. Some time in the garden.
It has been a good few months since I was out there and the very wet and fairly mild winter has created some work for me.
Our garden is one year old. The planting, on the whole, was only done last year and I am, most definitely, a novice. I had great ideas last year when planting the beds, to make detailed diagrams labelling the position of the plants and to take photos of the garden at it’s height, to remind me what needed to be done over winter.
Needless to say, I didn’t do either of those very sensible things.
And therefore currently, I am winging it.
I looked at the scene of devastation and didn’t really know where to begin. Every bed had things that looked dead or dying in them. I knew this was not the case and new life was just underneath the surface. It was time to clear out last year’s joy and prepare for what this year could bring.
I began to cut back the perennials and pulled up the remnants of vegetables I planted at the end of last summer and then promptly forgotten about.
I uprooted one beetroot that had sat in the ground all winter. Now swollen with water and a long way past it’s best, it still looked impressive. It reminded me of the book we read as kids, ‘The Enormous Turnip’.
I pulled up the brown and brittle remains of the beans that had produced far more than we were able to eat. I cut back the swiss chard that resembled monstrous red liquorice, curling around the raised bed.
I pulled up the dry stalks of the two giant sunflowers that last summer had grown taller than my children. Now lain out on the grass, they were brittle and the stems hollowed out, a shell of their former glory.
There was something pleasingly cathartic about clearing and cutting. About pruning back and pulling up. I looked at all the dead and dry remains of last summer. It had been a good year in the garden. So many surprises and so much colour. Much learnt and many mistakes made.
As ever when I am out in the garden with my hands muddy from the soil, I was not just learning about the garden, I was also learning about myself.
On Sunday as I dug the ground, as I got on my knees to look up close at what was going on, I realised these things:
I am reluctant to let go.
I found it hard to pick the vegetables we had grown last summer, even when they were perfectly ripe. I wanted to leave them in the ground a few days longer, to enjoy the scent and the fleshy shine. To revel in my sense of accomplishment. But when I did defer the harvesting for another few days, they soon went over, and were no longer good to eat, like my long-forgotten beetroot.
It is an act of courage to pick the fruit when it is ready. To give yourself the gift of enjoyment, in the moment. I can be a delayer and a postponer. Preserving and abstaining, holding onto things that are good, not being willing to consume them or enter into enjoying them. Watching, not revelling, in the days of celebration, as if by not partaking, not filling myself full of their goodness, they will last longer.
But everything is always moving. Change is constant. I need to get better at picking the fruit at its peak, inhaling the scent and sharing the bounty.
I also noticed the starts of new life.
That even in the midst of what looks to be a horrid cold winter, there is life erupting all around, if only you look for it.
I was reminded of a story In Wayne Muller’s book, A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough, of a forest fire in the hills of New Mexico. Hundred year old oaks had been reduced to black stumps and the ground was blackened as far as the eye could see. Muller describes hiking in the area three weeks later and being amazed by the carpet of green all around him. Standing at six to ten inches high the forest floor was blanketed with small oak seedlings. He writes,
“without any human effort to clear or seed, already the earth was pushing out life. Creation creates life at every revolution; it is incapable of doing otherwise… This is what the earth does. This is what we do. This is what our hearts do. They resurrect, rise from ash and death, and offer new seeds, new hope, new possibilities.”
Even now there is energy pushing up through the dark soil. There are green shoots and small beginnings, there is beauty. Even when from a distance nothing looks like it is changing, and destruction is all around, if you look, there is the possibility of hope.
Even on my most anxious days, or when I have no clue how to solve a problem, even when I am thrown into crisis and the world no longer looks the same, there is goodness ahead. Somewhere, life is bursting through.