Facing grief, life, cancer with truth, not homilies.
A Thin Veneer
The garden is a meditative place. While the chores of pulling weeds and deadheading flowers lay splayed out in front of you, your mind takes on a certain cadence that blends in with the movements of your body. Bend, pull, clip, wonder what happened over there? Volunteer plants, trees and weeds are everywhere. Little redbuds and maples and oaks. Unidentified flowers or are they weeds that look attractive? I think, are you here because of the wind or are you here because a bird dropping was filled with ingested seeds? Hmm. How did things get to be this way after all my careful planning? Why do some of you plants come roaring back every year while others vanish without a whisper? Why are you green leaves here without every yielding one single blossom the entire season? Why is one-quarter of this shrub dead while the rest is vibrant?
Where did you honeyvine milkweed plants come from and why do you relentlessly return everywhere? And who invented creeping charlie? I don’t want to put toxic material in my garden. But I want to kill the invaders.
I’ve tried to set up duels between ground covers pitting periwinkle vinca and ajuga against the uninvited guests. My home team often loses the battle or at best, fights to a draw. While I bend and tweak and think my way through the growth I muse about all this.
I think of my 68 year old body, two bionic knees and inevitably feel like I’m a participant in a losing battle. Clearing one area is a pyrrhic victory as another space a few feet over has fallen into a mess. I find myself thinking of the Jeff Goldblum character in Jurassic Park.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No. I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.
For so many years I’ve hurled myself against this ground and hurled so plants into it. In many respects, I’ve been highly successful. I know that many hybrid tulips needed me to split them up and divide them and I didn’t have time to do it so they’re gone. Whatever happened to the butter and eggs plants that looked so great after one season? I should’ve divided the iris rhizomes.
So many disappearances while I’ve labored away. But there was family and work and life and death and I just couldn’t keep up with it all. Still, there gorgeous shrubs and blossoms every year. I try to fill the gaps left by mystery and neglect. And now that I’m older, being mindful of keeping my balance among the unexpected vines and the railroad ties hidden beneath the ground covers, but with the time to do the work, I find that I am slower than I ever dreamed possible. And if I live on for awhile, I’ll get even more slow than I felt today. As I move from place to place, feeling inadequate to the tasks around me, I’m thinking, yes, life finds a way.
If I back off for a year or so, my garden will become a tangled web of intention and neglect. The mostly civilized order of the appearance of plants from early spring to late fall will dissipate and turn chaotic. When I moved here forty years ago there was chaos and grass. Grass which just sits and eventually becomes clover and crabgrass. Useless stuff. We carved so much lawn away that now these beds are ripe for a revolution of sorts. A tangled web will take over. As I ponder how quickly this could evolve I find myself thinking about our society. The garden feels like a metaphor for our seemingly civilized world.
That thin veneer of civilization has been pulled back pretty regularly these days and we see a lot of the darker side of our culture. Prejudice and violence. Division and hostility. Intolerance and rage. These aren’t new issues, but the voices on the margins are getting louder and more powerful.
Like the single little plants that enjoyed a brief stay in my garden, small voices are shunted aside by the more strident aggressive rumbles that tear at the fabric of our community. A regular societal bramble patch is what I see. Conflicting ideas about the way things should be are obscuring what was supposed to be a consensus among a people who, at one point, agreed to abide by a set of principles.
Those principles now clearly mean very different things to different sectors of the citizenry, both of this country and many others. As I toil away in my ground, I feel fatigue that’s both physical and mental. I can’t see my way through the huge divides between what some want and others vehemently do not want.
This thinly stretched translucent veneer of being civilized is exposing the chaos just below the surface. It feels as overwhelming as the plants that appear uninvited, so tough and resilient despite my efforts to control them, that they squeeze away those which were placed in my garden with intention. Yes, the garden is a meditative place, but these days that contemplation brings more anxiety than it once did. What I’m up against in my patch of earth is a metaphor for what is going on in the culture at large. The civilized part is very fragile and fraying at the edges. If it is untended or ignored we revert back to whatever there was before we developed a cooperative culture. That is so much more frightening than random weeds in a garden, or random voices that threaten to break apart what we’ve espoused for a long while. I write these words with tongue in cheek as I know full well the uphill battles for the little outsiders trying to find a space in this country at large. So many people have historically and will continue to live in the margins of this place. A thin veneer indeed. I fear for our future. Will we recover from the disarray which has blossomed or will it be the new state of affairs as we go forward? From flowers and plants to those big questions. The garden is a meditative place with just an active gardener trying to hold it together before life finds a way and overruns the best laid plans and ideas. My thoughts for this day.