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.
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. ;-)
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.
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...
Sometimes Creation imitates itself, and designs are repeated from form to form. Why else would there be so many instances of the Fibonacci sequence and the golden section? Why else would the human, the cat, the whale and the bat all have the same limb structure?
Maybe the design was just a good idea, and bore repeating.
The garden and I are coming up on an anniversary--it will be five years in November that we were introduced. Five years the following February when I committed to her (I toyed with letting her lie fallow, with naught but an occasional mowing. Then there was a shift in the universe...). And five years the following summer when she was established.
Ok. So only the first one is an impending anniversary. But starting from scratch five years ago, in retrospect, has been a real lesson in "The Law of the Farm," as per Steven Covey.* I wanted a garden. I was ready to work--and I tore into it with gusto(starting with cardboard sheeting, and then seven yards of commercial compost and garden stuff from all over the property, layered, lasagna-like). But, as with any great (or small) undertaking, I was naïve as to the obstacles to be faced. I didn't know the abundant rain here would wash the woodchips off the walking paths, swirling them into new and irregular patterns. I didn't know pomegranate trees would be so unhappy here that they would commit arboreal suicide. And I certainly didn't know about the Japanese Beetles...
And I didn't know that I was good at planting and weeding, but horrible at harvesting (weird, huh!), that I had never REALLY sweat in my life before moving here, and that the garden would grow life lessons as well as green things.
So why do I bring this up now, when this first anniversary is still a couple of months away? It's because of a moment--a garden moment.
I had a moment in the garden last week when I thought, "Huh. It looks like a garden."
Up to this point, yes, others had told me how lovely it is, what a nice garden space, etc. But to me, it was not yet a garden. To me, with all its weeds and bugs and sometimes sickly plants and plans that never came out right, it was not there yet. Then finally I saw it--with all its weeds and bugs and sickly plants and plans that had not come out as planned and I realized, yes, it's a garden.
As with a garden, so with so many other things, big and small. Life and plans, marriage, family, compost, a year, a day, a moment.
So much time in my life has been spent comparing my expectations with my reality, and thinking it wasn't a life yet. But if I am the garden, I know the Gardener is still and always faithfully working to form and mature me, not according to my designs, but to His. And He does not get discouraged at the weeds or bugs or sickly plants. Or plans that have not come out as planned. He still wants to Kiss the Garden. No matter how frustrating she is...
*author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
One of the reasons I wanted to paint, or do something to play with colors, was my experience in the upper reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where one can see that wildflowers have no compunction about growing in proximity to one another no matter how their colors clash. I once paused along a trail in Desolation Wilderness, aghast at the way the purple, orange, yellow and green were combined. How did they get away with that? And it looked good. Reaalllly good!
In the flatlands, trying to array myself in colors found at Macy's or the Emporium, I would fuss and freak over how the greens differed too much, this color didn't work with that print unless that color was in this print somewhere, or this item went with nothing--absolutely nothing--on the dressing room floor or in the closet--yet I could be ever hopeful that someday....someday something would cuddle up next to it and create some zing. Hasn't happened yet.
Sometimes the garden just looks weary. Or maybe I am projecting my own feelings. But I can relate to this trio of Basil plants that has spent the season putting forth their best, and now lower their leaves and sigh. The intense sunshine, at first an experience to rejoice in and face with exultation, now saps their strength and yellows their countenance. Too much for too long, I suppose.
It's coming on time to tidy up for Fall--to layer with compost then mulch til I drop. There are also Fall plants to start, wild bushes to tame. My own leaves are drooping just thinking about it. But I know, once I get out there, it will be a delight, and the effort so worth it.
So many times we arrange the garden then disappear inside. Or we walk the paths and examine the plants, only to create a list of things to do. There is very little time or effort to pause and appreciate the beauty we've created, to recognize our pale imitation of the Creator in the work of our hands--the urge to create. To beautify.
This morning I wandered through the garden with a mug of coffee. They say if you drink hot beverages on a hot day, it will cool you down. I'm not sure that’s entirely true, but even if it is, I’m not going to try it with the plants; at the end of the day when I wield the hose, I make an effort to spray the heated water away from the desirables, particularly the young ones.
Just one of those details to consider. Along with the idea that every once in awhile the rain barrels must be drained and refreshed with new rain.
But the fact that I can consider the details now supports my sense of having found some sweet spot (as previously mentioned)--that I can take the time to address plants as individuals and deal respectfully with each. To my shame I can not remember the names of many, and I want to rectify that.
The problem is the level of overwhelm. When the weeds are all I see, and images of Japanese beetles invade my dreams, my life seems to proceed like a steam roller--the view only of the general landscape with an inability to see what is crushed beneath. Sometimes I am what is crushed beneath. Decisions are made without sufficient deliberation, care is not taken for the smallest detail. Hurry is an enemy.
Brother Lawrence says, "We must do all things thoughtfully and soberly, without impetuosity or precipitancy, which denotes a mind undisciplined. We must go about our labors quietly, calmly, and lovingly, entreating Him to prosper the works of our hands; by thus keeping heart and mind fixed on God, we shall bruise the head of the evil one, and beat down his weapons to the ground."
Mindfulness, anyone? Truly there is nothing new under the sun. But the difference is on what(or rather, on whom) we keep our mind fixed. The details can be either that which overwhelms us, or the place of focus and care. The art is in being able to make the choice.