August has begun, and in the garden events are moving apace with the season. While there will be some intense heat waves yet to come, the summer heat has begun to mellow. Breezes waft over the garden gate, setting the bean leaves to nodding, looking like nothing so much as friends waving at someone. But there are many things I’ve learned–either for the first time, or for the first time that made an impact upon how I look at the rest of my life–my projects, my hopes, my fears.
The Balance of Secrets and Cooperation
In a garden, there are plenty of secret things, but it is a secrecy that relies on perspective. If you are still and wait, you see these unspoken things–the habits of a bee, the way vegetables grow, how a moth drinks nectar from the central blossoms of a marigold, which is a member of the Compositea family, along with sunflowers and daisies. I have spent many hours this year, kneeling and seeing, the furnace heat of afternoon giving way to the gauze of evening, and a shift change in the garden.
Somewhere along the way, I absorbed the idea that asking for help was weakness and mentioning anything I’d done with pride–without the accompanying “oh, it’s nothing, really”–was boastful, pushy. Here I am, 33, and I’ve been trying to do everything all by myself. When I do make something beautiful, I damage it by calling it nothing special. I damage myself, because all art, every endeavor, holds a piece of its actor, creator, dreamer. To say that our accomplishments are insignificant is to denigrate ourselves.
This, I think, comes from both cultural conditioning that women should be modest, as well as a fear of what other people will think. If I present it casually, as an off-the-cuff and effortless thing, when it is found wanting, there will be an out. It’s the “I was never serious about that, anyway” move, and lots of people do it. But the garden is serious about everything, and cares not one jot about the thoughts of the Observer. Moreover, nothing in the garden–from the whole of it down to the microbes in the soil–acts in isolation.
Vacuum is not a property found in Nature here. Even the seemingly negative actions of what we call pests are a part of something larger. This collection of interactions feeds back on itself and winds up being an ecosystem–each moving part hangs in delicate balance with all others, both sensitive to changes and enacting changes itself.
To Live Like a Garden
The quality of over-brimmed and bursting fullness permeates everything. And the deeper you look, the more you will see. I think this quality of burgeoning vitality distracts me from the impatience I feel waiting for tomatoes to ripen or beans to take on a satisfactory lumpiness. Patience–not only to allow things to unfold as they will, but to take setbacks in stride–is something my life has been short on these many years. I want everything to be Right Now, and I tend to exist in the moment as an eternity. This is both a good and a horrible way to be.
Yes, living in the moment allows for an appreciation of the spontaneous features of life, but it also means a danger of getting stuck in a Rut. That’s because viewing the Present as a static state means I don’t look for ways to change what is, opportunities to grow, or learn how to make long-term plans. Having the garden pushes me to think about how I might do things better for next season, even while it encourages me to look at what is happening right now.
I have to allow the plants to do their thing as they will. Sure, I can gently disentangle the bean vines from the tomatoes, the fence, the neighbor’s dog, but I have to allow growth at the pace it happens. It’s been said that a flower doesn’t care if you think it’s beautiful. Pushing aside the necessary oversight of a lack of consciousness in flowers, this is true of every plant, bird, beetle, and earthworm I’ve gotten to know this season.
They all seem to say, “Do what you do.” The unspoken understanding that the only judging going on in nature is whether you survive long enough to reproduce hangs in the background. But I have allowed a fear of what others think to restrict my actions, to hold me back from creating and taking risks. The marigolds seem to sniff and fluff their deep orange and gold petals at me. “To be alive is the ultimate risk. Don’t sweat the small stuff, which is everything else.”
I look over at the basil plants, shaggy spears of flowers dominating the withering remains of leaves. I allowed them to bolt and put out flowers because they drew the bees in droves. My garden looks tangled, disreputable. But it is productive, full of fruits and flowers, the lulling voices of bees and the bright lilts of butterflies. I think I value that more than appearances at this point in August. It’s a happy sort of mess, which I feel as if my life is about to become, in a more general sense.
Garden Notes on Courage
I’ve embarked upon a quest to make writing work for me, and to put myself out in the public eye. It’s what I want to do. I’ve always known that, so it wasn’t the issue. But having the courage to admit that I wanted that–in the face of all the advice and informed opinions telling me it was next-to-impossible, that I should be practical, that I needed to live in the Real World–was more problematic. This is the first courage, to stand up and say,
“I don’t want to be practical in the way that you mean. I don’t do well in the Real World, and I probably never will. It’s too cold and the physics doesn’t agree with me.”
The second Courage is the strength to admit that I’m lazy, but if I want to do this, there’s no turning back, even if people don’t want what I have to offer. I push forward, and I work harder than I ever have to make it work. I open my ears and shut my mouth, take notes. Then, the third Courage, I ask questions, admit I don’t know anything, ask for help. I learn to lean on those stronger and wiser than myself without abdicating personal responsibility. I have to remember to tell myself,
“Don’t you remember that Everything in the Universe began as something else–smaller, different, or perhaps a fragment? And all those big things–old galaxies, mountains, oak trees, rivers, nebulae–went through the process of becoming. There was certainly change, perhaps pain, but Nature is not static and neither are you.”
That’s about as psychologically naked as I’ve been in a while. The heat is making me addled, so I think I’ll reserve the right to say “Edits forthcoming.”