Day to day observations, trials and triumphs.
Wonder for the common and uncommon.
Stepping back to gain perspective.
Lewis's Miniature Garden brings joy bubbling up from the experience of the garden and the message it brings. It's a message of delight and wonder--a glimpse into the original design and the future restoration. For Lewis the moment was tied to that small garden. For me it was a walk through a high mountain meadow. Here was everything I ever wanted. Here was fulfillment. Here was the call of the Creator to come in, come in! " Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
A warm winter day, and I sit on the porch admiring the sky. The smallest of spiders dangles down from the rafters, and the breeze lifts him up and swings him back. Spider season is coming. This is when every walk through the woods involves the first-in-line waving a stick or such to clear the way from the sticky fibers that transverse every pathway. This is when power lines are decorated in glittering webs in consistent distribution between the wires along the roadway. I've always been impressed with the skill and tenacity of the spiders. And confused. I could not figure out how they anchored their webs on both sides, considering they are so small. So small.
I was thinking they had plans and were in control of their web building. I couldn't be more wrong.
As the tiny spider dangles before me, I watch the wind swing him upwards and can see the multiple possibilities of where his second anchor might eventually be. It occurs to me it doesn't matter to him; his calling is to build a web. And rebuild it when it is destroyed. But he anchors one end, and then lets the wind take him where it will, always ready to anchor the second end and begin work.
How many times does the spider attempt the second anchor, so he can begin building? How long does it take? Some spiders must hit the jackpot right away, while others must wait and wait and wait, for what could seem like an eternity. They could get very hungry. I'm thinking each spider must have it's own story, so to speak. But most impressive is their ability to anchor on one side and swing in the breeze for the rest. This is trust. This is faith.
Yesterday was blog day, at least officially. I, however, spent the day in bed unable to work or sleep due to the pain in my body. Everything hurt--my skin, my bones, my head, my muscles. Silly me. I had forgotten that the side effects of a certain vaccination that I blithely took the day before, thinking, "Maybe this time, the second dose, it won't be so bad." It was worse.
So the day ground on; my eyes hurting enough I couldn't read or watch TV. My plan to type on the laptop was a fool's notion. I listened to podcasts and drifted in and out such that I couldn't really say what the podcasts were about. I desperately chugged some Nyquil, just so I could sleep through the pain. And there you have it--a solid 24 hours from my life--gone.
It's a Full Stop. I have seen it before, in my life and in the lives of others. It is hard not to resent it and look back at it and say, "What was THAT about??!??"
But this is not really a bad question. We can't always know the answer, though we will not stop trying to guess at it, but it is good to look at the times we lose our self-definition through activity or productivity, and struggle mightily to know we are still beloved and have nothing to prove. I think this is particularly difficult in the current culture (the current state?). My sense in bed yesterday was that I was not moving forward (with my own plans?) so I was sliding backwards--ever backwards. I should know better. The Full Stop is the opportunity to let go, regroup, and reevaluate.
I admit I am still working on the answer to what the Full Stop is about. Christianese will say it is God trying to get your attention. Meh. Maybe. I prefer to see it as a realignment of our paradigm--to see ourselves as helpless yet in His arms, valuable for being made in His image, and established in life--for life's sake. Maybe that's the same thing. Over ten years ago when an accident damaged all my gates of perception, and I experienced the ultimate Full Stop for more than a year (in spite of my effort to keep going just to end up with those wheels spinning!), my mantra was Life for Life's sake. I am not beholden to the "do and do,"
The funny thing is, today I feel like I've been resurrected. It doesn't matter what I "do," it is just good to be upright. It is good to be breathing. And the sense of sliding backwards has dissipated like smoke in the wind. This seems to be part of the answer to the question "What was THAT about??1??" Like the sermon by S.M. Lockridge, "It's Friday, but Sunday's comin'!". Sunday always comes.
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.
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.
A Lesson in Seasons
We've had a couple of very unseasonably and unreasonably warm days this past week. It is deep winter, so thoughts of the garden did not cross my mind until a friend mentioned how she had been working outside during the cold and thereby freezing her fingers in the post-frozen soils of her garden beds, when, had she but waited, she could have done all that in these unusual balmy days of December.
Oh. I thought. I should have been working in the garden. Missed my chance! But, unlike my friend, I don't plan to care for the garden during the months of cold. I consider this time to be "months off," when both the garden and I rest and prepare to take the deep breath needed before charging in to the early spring tasks of cleaning and preparing the beds and setting up grow lights in the mud room. I look out the windows toward the gardens and feel no draw--no desire to get out and get dirty. I do an occasional walkabout, and merely shrug at the weeds and twigs and all manner of thing that could be accomplished. I'm on short day mode, semi-hibernating, and happy here.
But I know all that will change when the time is right...when the lengthening days flip a switch in my soul and call me out. The process echoes the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes (or, if you prefer, the song by the Byrds.) There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
The hard part is recognizing the seasons, and how sometimes I push on an issue out of time. Like my friend who reaped frozen fingers in her garden, I seek an unsanctioned vision, and find myself at best spinning my wheels, or at worst, shutting off whatever grace there would have been in that direction. That's my gentle way of saying I damage my own walk. It's so hard to rest...to rest...to rest. To rest involves trust, an inhuman level of trust that we are indeed called to, but cannot accomplish in our own strength and inclination. There is such joy there, such peace. The place where our wheels no longer spin, both outwardly in our material efforts, or inwardly, in our pattern of self-condemnation.
My hope for you, as for all of us, is that this new year find you resting in the pure life of your Creator and delighting in the wisdom of the seasons.
Three seed catalogues arrived in the mail the other day. The garden asleep, and my heart elsewhere for the season, the catalogues come with full intent to awaken hopes and dreams for the growing season to come. I am normally quite bored by seed catalogues--after all, a tomato is a tomato is a tomato--and I have always wondered at how there could possibly be so many pages dedicated to the tomato. Then the cucumber. Then beans, etc.
But this time I sat and actually read the section descriptions--and some of the species descriptions, to boot! And I got excited about the potential for certain plants, and could envision how they might fit in the garden this year, if only they behave as described in the catalogue. I wanted to jump up and fetch a marker and circle the ones I obviously need. I wanted to design the perfect three packs of mixed types in order to massage the existing garden design into future--hopefully productive--glory.
But seeds or plants? I could get ninety seeds for less than three plants. Or 65 seeds for less than one, depending on species. Would the seeds grow? Do I really need ninety of them? If I pay the bucks for the plants, will they grow better? Will I, in fact, kill them...either by delaying their planting or some future neglect. Seeds seem safer, in general.
But I have started seeds indoors, and I have direct sown, and this I have to say about direct sowing, at least in my particular garden (maybe not yours). I direct sow an area in the garden and wait for the babies to come up, and when they do, they don't all look alike. And I don't know which is the actual veggie or flower plant. The preponderance of weeds keeps me guessing, and I am ashamed to say that last year I rid our front planter area of some ornamental perennials in favor of some other spurious characters. Expletive deleted.
I am chagrined to note that receiving mid-winter seed catalogues would send me spiraling into a frenzy of doubts and hopes. It's as if I have the proverbial angel on one shoulder and devil on the other: "Hold on, not so fast." "Oh that might be good as a space-saver." "Will it really grow like that?" "That's too many seeds." "That's because they don't all germinate." "One of those would be good...that price is ok." "Too much, too much, too much." "Ooooh. That would be lovely!"
I will leave it to you to determine which one is which.
And I have put the catalogue on the shelf for future ruminations. Or perhaps to see who, between those sitting on my shoulders whispering in my ears, wins the debates.
The question remains....what was the outcome of the weed confusion? Were the two plants the same species . . . just looking different in a different micro-climate?
Of course, looking at the pictures side by side now they look totally different, though it was not so clear in the garden. So I waited for them to mature, and, sure enough, the one in the lavender bed grew into something different.
Different, but not so very interesting. So whether it was a doppelganger of the award winning weed of the year or not, its differentiation was insufficient for me to have mercy. No flowers, no "fruit"...nothing but imitating Mr. Weed of the Year. So out it went. I found myself apologizing to it.
"So sorry, plant, I don't know you."
The conclusion of the matter: while you can't always avoid associating with weeds, don't be imitating them. Looking and acting like a weed makes for a weed, no matter what your pedigree.