winter garden walkabout
Oh, baby, it's cold outside. At least for this California transplant. And while I remind myself that winter was often cold in the Valley where I come from, cold appears to be relative. So, contrary to my usual habit of going on "walkabout" through the garden in the morning to check its inhabitants, both green and feathered, I am now more prone to just peer out the kitchen window and get an overview and hope for the best. It takes a metaphorical crow bar to get me out there.
And so on walkabout this morning(based on the crowbar of this blog), I tenderly brushed the broccoli leaves(they do seem stressed) and examined the emergent parts of the artichoke. I sat on a paving stone to relate to the lavender and the dianthus. Stressed or no, I am impressed with their resilience. And their grace toward me who, as keeper of the garden, should be more responsible to cover everybody out there when a freeze occurs. I have never been one to particularly coddle the garden plants, but this winter I feel there is a greater investment involved--perennials I would like to see enjoy a little longevity and express their gratitude with some edibles or such next warm season. I am comfortable with letting the garden sleep, but, let's face it, everybody needs a blanket some time!
Especially since the garden just feels so exposed. With the leaves down and the native perennials hiding under the surface of the soil, it is a more empty place. A more vulnerable place. The brave souls that remain above ground tempt the deer, who can now see into the garden, and the freeze, which can harden even the top layer of soil. Even the new bed, laid out last month, looks more like a fresh grave than anything holding promise for a future of abundance and growth.
Yet there is beauty. In the silence, in the cold, in the emptiness. Like a desert it touches the soul with a bittersweet never accomplished by bright spring profusion. Paradoxically from death comes life. From the grave comes germination. From the time of cold and silence comes refreshing, and riotous life. In so many ways in life we experience the promise of regeneration, if we would but notice. We should be able to expect it. We should know, deep down, that resurrection indeed comes.
earth on the head
As is often the case, when I get down to some serious weeding, I am almost belly to the ground and really into the roots, soil and mulch of the structure of the garden foundation. That's a lot of words just to say that I get dirty. I stain my clothes with the brown of compost and green of smooshed plants, grind soil under my finger nails and often even end up with smudges on my face as I must push aside the errant strand of hair or two. But I have never come up with earth on my head. At least not yet.
When the Israelites were allowed to return to their land from exile in Babylon, the few that made the trek found a major mess. Getting their feet back under themselves, so to speak, took many steps, including cleaning out the city from the rubbish, establishing an altar to begin a modicum of worship, building homes, building a temple, building a wall...and after all that, when the scroll of the law was found, they had to look inside and examine their hearts.
And they ended up with earth on their heads.
First, yes, they said "Amen" to the reading of the law, and when given to grief at what they heard there, were told that the day was Holy, and they must not grieve, but rather celebrate in joy, even to the obedience to celebrate the full seven days of Tabernacles. It seems there was a period of grace, to enjoy God's unmerited favor, choseness and love, before fully facing the inner damage of their life of rebellion against God.
Then they gathered together with earth on their heads.
Earth on our heads reminds us what we are made of. It is a humbling expression of our relationship to our Creator. But I also wonder, too, having come from the earth physically, if it is not also a grounding experience. I suppose that is the same as being humble, but I see in it a return to our place of formation--like (and I apologize for this analogy) taking an iphone back to its factory settings.
I've mentioned before how of late there have been scientific reports that bacteria in soil can increase our serotonin levels and encourage a sense of well being. I'm wondering if earth on the head is another evidence of the grace of God---for here the people come to face the truth about their hearts(deceitful above all else), and God includes in the humbling a boost of serotonin. Confession and repentance, at the end of the day, lead to release and freedom, and a clear relationship with Him, unsullied by us bearing up under the weight of our sin. But even this He brightens up for us, with Earth on our Heads.
a watchman for our garden
In the east, traditionally, the garden was on the outskirts of town, fully enclosed and often guarded, having a watchtower for the watchman to keep away beasts and robbers. Here in the west, a garden is an area close to the house, used for growing herbs, flowers, vegetables and other green things. It may or may not be enclosed. Unless, of course, as in the east of the west like here in North Carolina, you need to keep out the beasts both big and small that come out of the forest and nibble on all manner of tasty thing. 'Haven't had issues with robbers yet. (And at the rate of production of my garden, I really don't expect to. ;-))
One reader of this blog has said, "It all started in a garden." And indeed it did. That garden is real as well as metaphorical--the place of our dreams where we are no longer separated from our Source, and are fully realized. The place we long for, whether we recognize it as such or not.
Two men observed the young son of one who was dancing joyously to music only he could hear. The father of the boy turned to the other man and said, shrugging, "He is still in the garden." Though no human truly remains in that Garden, the boy had a piece of it in his heart--enough of a piece, enough of a glimpse, that he touched the joy of true reality and danced with it.
I believe that this is available to us, no matter how long we have dwelt on this earth, nor no matter how many beasts and robbers have ravaged our garden. In relationship with the Creator, the garden is restored, and yet it is up to us to collaborate in that, for we are told to guard, or keep, our hearts. Yet we are not the watchman. The Creator is the Watchman, the Perfect Watchman, if we dedicate the garden to Him.
For a fitting exposition of the call to guard our hearts from Proverbs 4:23, click here.
Today was the best. day. ever.
For working in the garden.
Sunny and cool--there was a break in the cold, often freezing, weather--and the soil was pliant and aromatic. Rain had finally pummeled down the asparagus feathers, so the plants could be clipped and put to bed for the winter. The mulch is down, the perennials trimmed, and--oh so importantly--the bird feeders filled. The day's work ranged from macro-cleanup to micro-weeding; at one point I found myself hugging the ground to pick little weeds from around the beets, spinach, and lettuce.
The theme of the day was "breathing room." Sometimes the roots of the weeds were thoroughly entwined with the roots of the plants. Sometimes the plants themselves were too close to one another and one or more had to be moved or removed. The artichokes had to be tied up and mulched so the lower leaves don't rot in the winter wet. The lion's ears, turning to slime where they stood, were removed to give the monarda space and half a stand of fall aster was pulled to reveal the new fig tree struggling for light.
Natural things respond to space--both room and air. Years ago, when I was young and living in a foreign land(Utah), I had a moment of clarity of how God places us in his kingdom. I was praying, and my eyes fell on a houseplant(known its entire life as "Gregory Greensleeves"). When we moved to Utah, Gregory landed on a desk situated nowhere near the window, but over time he made himself at home, and grew along and over the desk until he was quite beautiful and healthy, filling in the spaces he could reach. And the Lord said, "Grow where you can, wherever you are."
This is a big thought I'm trying to put into words, but I think a key phrase is "over time." Ecclesiastes 3:11 says "He makes all things beautiful in its time." Or in His time. In a sense, we have to give Him space to do so, to trust that He keeps His word and that what He plants in us will burst forth from the ground one day, or, like Gregory, fill its niche slowly but inevitably. If we give space to the Holy Spirit in our lives, we may grow into places we never before imagined.
It turned so cold so quickly that my California bones chatter within me. The garden is crispy with ice underfoot, the plants are silent and still, gathering strength to endure. I myself am laid up, hunkered under a down comforter waiting out a virus that has scraped my throat raw and pounds in my head.
But the garden reaches out to me anyway, as the winter light casts a moving pattern on the opposite wall and I am fascinated. Captivated. I want to capture its dynamic and mimic it in paint, yarn, or paper.
I untangle myself from the sheet, blanket and earbuds and scramble from my nest to catch the shifting shadows on my camera phone. I cast no shadow of my own, even when the camera is held up to capture the moving patterns.
I return to the warm cocoon of bed and realize the movement has stopped. The static pattern on the wall is just as delightful as the moving one. I jump back up, but try as I might I cannot get a shot of this pattern without my own shadow interfering. The best light lasted only a moment. Less than a moment.
The perfect light, the perfect access passed so swiftly. I'm grateful I was paying attention, and grateful to enjoy the garden's reach from within my warm bedroom. But the shifting light reminds me to seize the minute. Carpe minutam--minutam being the smallest fraction of time in Latin.
God writes His love letter to us and reminds us that now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.
Now is the minutam.
* Not the pattern itself, but the part of the garden making the pattern. This site does not have the capacity to upload a video. Yet.
As a gardener thinketh
A man's mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind. -- James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
In the past few weeks I determined that I was focusing too much on the weeds in the garden, and decided to "turn a corner," as they say, and try to alter my focus. Granted, one can run "weed of the year" contests, or choose one's favorite weed to pull out--ah, so satisfying--but the purpose of the garden is to produce good fruit, be it literal fruit, or veggies, flowers, or just desirable greenery. Focusing on that could change my outlook--and the outcome in the garden. And as in the garden, in life.
I admit I've been loathe to fertilize because, shoot, if I fertilize the garden plants, the weeds will take advantage and overrun the place. So I've starved the good seed. Or at least been withholding. It is not unlike the line from a Tom Waits'* song, "If I exorcise my demons, my angels may leave, too." Only upside down. More like, if I starve my angels, my demons should wither. And a voice says, "How is that workin' for ya?"
What do I see in the picture? At first, of course, I saw the weeds. Now, my heart, I purpose to see the blooms. And not just to see the bloomin' part of the garden, but to continue cultivating good fruit--a life-long process.
*possibly referencing a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke: "If my devils are to leave me, I am afraid my angels will take flight as well."
A Disturbance in the Forest Part Deux
I have been keeping an eye on the disturbed area in our neighborhood forest. I thought the scar would be long-lasting and perpetually ugly during that time. As I've watched, the native plants have come in--first those pioneers that delight in disturbed ground, and then -- well, I'm still waiting for the "and then." But I have no doubt that the healing is on the way.
Oh! To have faith that in time every scar is healed. That all damage will come out repaired and improved on the other side. And yet, that is what we need to believe; that the fruit of our afflictions is worth the agony of going through those afflictions. That creation groaning in travail yet looks forward to the chains to fall away and to the resurrection of wholeness which will transform it to its very core.
For our light affliction, which is for the moment,
worketh for us more and more exceedingly
an eternal weight of glory.
2Cor. 4:17 ASV
I see in this disturbed plot of ground an immediate healing process--the pioneer plants that hold the earth until healing is complete and wonder if it is the same for us--when trials come, is there a temporary covering that protects us enough until the deep work can be done? I want to look for it.
In the meantime, the pioneer plants themselves provide an opportunity to create beauty--beauty from the results of the disturbance in the forest...
I suppose it is a bit odd to be talking about fruit right now. Everything fruit-bearing in the garden is heading toward a deep winter sleep, the time of production long past. But I came across a quote that brought me into contemplation about fruit.
Fruit is a pretty common metaphor. I mean, my goodness! The apple has had a bad rap for millennia due to being assumed to be the culprit in the loss of our paradisiacal home. But there is also the fruit of the womb, the fruit of the loom, the fruit of our labor, the fruit of their way, the fruit of the spirit and, alas and here we land--the fruit of affliction.
I won't suffer to expound on how and why we experience affliction. This is ground covered by many people more talented and insightful than I. What is important is the fruit of the affliction. What fruit will grow from our afflictions, and what will we do with it...?
In the section on the book of Ruth in A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, John Trapp states:
"Many are humbled, but not humble; low, but not lowly.
These have lost the fruit of their afflictions … and are therefore most miserable."
To suffer afflictions, and then lose the benefits of such suffering...what a colossal waste! It is like the old saying that if we don't learn our lesson the first time, we will have to go around the same mountain again. Except it's not. Because the fruit of afflictions does not just teach us a lesson. It creates in us a new paradigm, a holier way of being, a clearer vision of our standing before the Lord. I would not want to miss out on any of that.
Am I therefore looking for afflictions? Certainly not! But if they come...no, when they come...I hope I will allow them to do their work in me.
it is good for life
"God says what He says because it is good for life." Professor Darrell Bock, in an interview with Dr. Michael Brown.
The garden won't grow without sunlight (Do you have 6 hours of sun for your planned garden location?)
The garden won't grow without water (Do you have an irrigation system--or easy access to water?)
The garden won't grow without good soil (Have you broken up the fallow ground?)
The garden won't grow without seeds...seeds don't happen without pollination...pollination doesn't happen without pollinators....pollinators sometimes sting....
We spent many years struggling to keep a garden going in a dry and parched land, without an irrigation system. When we finally put in a drip system, lo and behold, green happened! We would joke about it and say, "Funny thing that! It turns out plants need water."
I still buck against the garden books that insist I need a plot with 6 hours of sunlight ("Come on, already! Really?) I want to plop seeds in the ground wherever I want and then expect a profusion of beautiful or edible plants. Quickly. But no matter how I fight against it, I can't escape the Law of the Garden. See above. Things just work out better when I operate within those given parameters.
There are many things we fight against when our Creator tells them to us. The first, is that our relationship with Him is broken--oh, so broken. We invent all kinds of things/gods to replace Him and point to our makings and say, "See! Me and God, we're good!" It is hard enough to know Him as He truly is (if we ever will, but this is our task and our calling) without saying back to Him, "No! I don't like that! You can't be like that."
"Sorry," He might say. "I am."
The Garden withers
The first winter of this garden, we pulled out a plant we thought was dead. All indicators showed it was...the leaves were gone, yes, but moreover, the branches had a dead snap to them, and there was no green to show when the branches were scratched. What we did not know, was that here, in our new home, life goes underground (for the perennials), and waits for the winter to pass, saving its branches from the freeze that might creep down into all parts of the plant.
Now I watch as perennials retreat into themselves, and I don't freak out. Sometimes in late summer I peak below the surface and see new green waiting beneath the withering leaves and stems, and I smile at the promise of new life beyond the winter cold.
But my thoughts the other morning were of how we also fall apart toward the end of our season. We fall apart, and things that once seemed so important fall away from us when we near the time to be separated spirit from body. It's a God-given process to prepare us to be glad to shed this husk.
It put me in remembrance of the process we go through when our children prepare to break away from us as they grow. There is change, and pain, and things die and new things come about. It is sad but it is inevitable. And there is something new and important on the other side. Hopefully in this instance, something glorious.
What is the relationship between pain we would rather avoid, and its role in preparing us for an upcoming separation? If we could understand what is coming--what is always coming, for separations are inevitable--we might better bear up under what is.