Dreams of a proper frozen winter with a garden inaccessibly buried in snow have come to a crashing end. We are beginning to talk over morning coffee about things that must be done there--things I've seen but have been ignoring. The Husband wanted to set a gardening date for this week, but that seemed "unholy" to me; we must at least wait until February. He was easily persuaded. But February starts next week.
I know once I get out there I will find it invigorating. I will love the results of a few hours work to produce a greater aesthetic. But for me, I realize, it is not so much the process in the garden that I enjoy. It is the product.
In an art class years ago, during the final critiquing session, the teacher asked each student whether they joyed over the process or the product. Process, process, process, I thought, and even to this day I love the smearing of paint or the combining of yarns for a desired effect, and seem to have endless patience for the road rather than concern for the destination.
In the garden, however, I don't relish the process, but am motivated by the product--an aesthetically pleasing place where the birds, bees and butterflies want to hang out, and the whole (as opposed to the parts, individually considered) shouts success and beauty. This may be why I take garden failure more personally. I want to put something someplace, have it happily show off its assets, and have it stay there. Stay there, you! Just. Stay!
But, alas, the garden is always changing. Even year to year I cannot count on its behavior. Not unlike my own personal or spiritual growth, where I think I have something down. "Hey," I think. "I've got this goin' on!" and it pops up again, sometimes in a different place, sometimes in a different form, but one way or another I have to face it again.
So my challenge is to view the garden in process and stop trying to bop-the-bunny to get a moment of perfection, commensurate with my dreams and visions, that will nonetheless just never stay put. I don't know why I don't look at it the same way I look at smearing paint or twining yarn, but I am ever hopeful that I can learn to take lessons from the studio into the garden, accept what is, embrace the process, and keep working, working, working...
Honestly, I wonder if our Creator has the same sense of frustration with us, His stubborn little gardens.
Principles of Environmental Science
One of my favorite classes in college was "Principles of Environmental Science." The instructors had written a book by the same name, and the premise of both was novel and interesting, sparking my imagination into viewing the natural world--and the people world--in a new way. They used principles typically applied to natural systems and applied them to human systems, and voila! ---it all fit. Principles of competition, distribution, carrying capacity, cycles and such. If you see it in nature, you can most likely see it in human systems. Maybe even in a specific human system, but I have yet to investigate this. And I digress.
Contrary to textbooks by the same name now being promoted, this book was not about man's (mankind's) impact on the environment. But more about how the environment (nature) can teach us about mankind's behavior. Not so much the relationship of environment and man, but the way humankind behaves in like manner as the natural world. For instance, the distribution of health services relative to population, or the dispersal of influence based on environmental changes. Opportunism. Symbiosis. Parasitism.
I was reminded of this by my strawberry patch this morning. For some reason the strawberry plants are moving into the garden path and the weeds(some of my favorites) are infilling the areas left behind. The strawberry plants may be moving farther from the Rose of Sharon, which, having grown, may have increased the shade or, who knows, could have emitted some toxins beneath the surface of the soil, and thus changed the microclimate or growing conditions in general.
I was listening to the news this morning while gazing out onto the meadow and the woods beyond, and thought of the push and pull of species in the garden, in the wild, and in society. Nature reaches for a place of balance, though on this side of eternity it does struggle to stay there. I am hoping at least the same for the human system.
Ah, you say. She has written her first political post.
Not so, I say.
I'm still talking about the strawberry patch. ;-)
It's the warmest January here yet, and the temperature is calling weeds up from what should be a frosty ground, and trees and bulbs are being fooled into budding forth with confidence. On one hand I'm not happy, because the season of rest for the garden and the gardener has been interrupted. On the other hand, it is magical in its exceptional oddness. The mist visible through the trees quiets and tempers the landscape and the smell of moist ground is one of those things I love most about North Carolina. Passing by an open pasture in the afternoon I thought, "A cloud has touched the ground."
In the bursting green of the newly minted weed beds of my garden, I see -- well, yes--a lot of work to be done. But I can also see the image of the insistence of life. I choose to watch in awe as my expectations are befuddled. Once again I learn to hold my plans loosely, be light on my feet, and laugh with God. *
Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine. ... to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple: to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
From the Yiddish proverb, Man plans and God laughs.
The view out the kitchen window shows that the bird feeders need tending. A new cake of suet for the cage feeder, and seed mixes for three other hanging feeders. All of them, this time around, are flavored with hot pepper to keep the squirrels disinterested.
Feeding the birds is a task the children have always enjoyed, as it involves scooping and pouring, and being helpful to boot. Careful to make sure the 4-year-old granddaughter does not touch anything tender on herself with peppered fingers, I send her into the house to wash her hands while I clean up all the bird-product packaging. A new style of package has been causing no small frustration, with a single hole for pouring, and no rear "vent" to balance the pressure of the contents. Glad it is empty and eager to toss the mess into the garbage, I flatten the bag, only to receive a puff of air in the face. In the eyes. "Nice," I quip to myself, shaking my head with the final insult of the frustrating bag, before I fully realize what has just happened. A puff of hot pepper dust sprayed directly into my eyes.
The pain is exquisite, excruciating. I bend at the waist with my eyes so tight my eye muscles are straining. Water, I think, I need water, as images of my college chemistry lab and the eye-rinsing station come to mind. The hose bib is halfway across the garden, and the hose is disconnected for the winter. I cry out for help, and as the husband brings water and proceeds to pour it over my face, I get a sense of what it might be like to be water-boarded. I finally end up with a watering can of water, a shot glass, and a rag, and can do nothing but wash and wash and wash. I fear I have blinded myself. I fear, too, that I am frightening the 4-year-old. (Yet am so so grateful she was in the house at the time of the puff of pepper dust.) It takes 20 minutes to be able to open my eyes enough to see my way into the house, and another 20 to wash out enough pepper that my eyes can stay open at will. The skin is burning as well, and I feel like a fire raccoon.
It's been four days and my eyes are still watering, tired and irritated. I think I pulled an eye muscle(is that possible?). And I think, in a moment, in a flash, your plans can change for the day, for the week, for a lifetime. Stuff happens. Puffs happen. But by the grace of God, we press on.
At least the birds are enjoying the feast.