The Marigold Parables: Garden Reflections

Yesterday, or somewhere thereabouts, I wrote an entry that makes me uncomfortable to revisit.  I want to very quietly edge it under the rug with a toe and pretend it isn’t there.  But I can’t bring myself to delete it, because I feel it has value, a part of which is that it is public.  One of the big hurdles I struggle with in life is the need to be seen as perfect, even when I know that I am not.  I feel a deep unease with my flaws and shortcomings, especially when they are demonstrable and seen by the world.

However, the tough self-love of looking at these attitudinal structures and then showing them to any who would see is a part of dismantling them.  Perfection is boring and undesirable when it comes down to brass tacks.  It is a condition of a thing that does not and perhaps cannot change.  Perfection, in the purest sense, is not for human beings, or for anything in the universe, it seems.  Because even stars, black holes, and dark matter are not static, but dynamic systems built on change.  Certainly, the smaller working bits that populate a single planet in a rather undistinguished galactic neighborhood should aspire to do no less.


Time in a Garden Moves at a Different Rate

I spent much of the morning bent double, looking at the ground.  It wasn’t my plan to weed the secondary vegetable patch that I established this year, but I went out to take a look at the mystery squash and have a word with Ygraine, the garden spider.  FullSizeRenderAnd one thing led to another.  This plot wasn’t planned, either.  It was a product of pique, a sudden decision that I would not allow another plant to die because I could not rely on anyone to care for my trays of delicate seedlings in my absence.  Every remaining seedling was planted in a single afternoon.  And to my surprise, they’ve all thrived.

But they probably would have benefited from a more thorough initial clearing of the earth in which they were planted.  The little Japanese maple that was already there tends to shelter an inordinately large and diverse population of weed species.  When nothing else grew in the corner behind it, I was content to allow the plant kingdom its autonomy.  I view each plant present as a part of a diverse and interconnected system.  But, now I have plans for the dirt in which those weeds are rooted.  I also want to be sure the little tree doesn’t suffer because it feels suffocated.  (Weeds in the South are awesome things, given their capacity to overtake and suffocate intentional plantings in record time.)

So there I was, either crouched low, straining to reach beneath the umbrella of ticklish red fronds of the maple, or bent at the waist, plucking a veritable terrarium of weeds from between my flipflop-shod feet.  Bare hands, bare feet, bare head all awash with the sticky sweat of a breathless July morning.  These are three things you never want to take into any garden work with you, because: A) many weeds are armed and dangerous with thorns, stickers, or irritating saps; B) Fire ants, among an astonishing array of biting, stinging, swarming creatures, tend to dislike being disturbed by weeding activities; C)For all that the hour was early when I began, the sun can be ferocious, especially over long periods of time.

But I always lose time in the garden.  IMG_1085It’s a different sort of losing than when I write or cook.  Because the moments themselves become like heavy syrup.  The world slows and is distilled in a rather special way.  I water the earth with my own sweat, and I feel the presence of all those millions of growing things and animals coat me, like a second skin.


A Marigold Study

When I decided I’d done enough for the day, my coffee was cold and I was not. I sat, sweating, limp, and red-faced in the comparative shade of the awning, simply existing for a moment.  Too wrung-out to move, I allowed my thoughts to drift rudderless along with my gaze, across the various plots, plantings, and collections of pots.  The garden is so filled with life and aliveness, but I realized then that absolutely none of it, if scrutinized closely, would be deemed “perfect.” IMG_1075Faded blooms, brown spots, bug-nibbles along the edges of leaves–these were a part of the the garden I watched.

How then was the whole so pleasing? Even with the beds filled with weeds.  Even with the roses un-deadheaded and the drought-burned leaf tips of many of the plants.  Still, it was something beautiful to behold.  Perfection would have noticeably detracted from its present loveliness.  My head lolls, and I see the pot of rescued Discount Marigolds.  They’d been given up for dead, and left to bake, unwatered in the broiling sun of a local garden center.

To be sure, they looked as if someone had sat upon them by mistake.  But for a dime, I took them home.  Perhaps something could be done for them.  Now, while I wasn’t able to resurrect all 12 of the struggling plants, I managed to save a few.  They bloom valiantly, putting out more buds than leaves, to open into tiny flags of vermilion and gold, butter and flame.  They are, to my mind, more beautiful than the big, fat plain orange marigolds my mother purchased to line the vegetable plot, although no flower is ever unbeautifulIMG_1097.

They have a pluck about them, a sort of jaunty courage that’s lacking in their more fatuous and sleek cousins.  It’s almost as if they’re making up for the fact that they were nearly dead for so much of the late spring and early summer.  And while their blossoms are less fully petaled, they are glorious.  These little plants didn’t give up.  They waited for me, or someone, to come and scoop them up, take them home, and give them a drink of water.  How very much like humans they areIMG_1096.  Or perhaps humans are pale reflections of marigolds.  At the subatomic level, I daresay it doesn’t especially matter which is which.


The conclusion of my day’s work and reflection are simple.  I have been unkind to myself.  Not because I took note of my flaws or wish to better myself.  That, simply put, is something I feel we could all use more of.  But it’s the way I did it.  As if my flaws were all there was to me.  I callously brushed aside what was good or brave or kind.  I devalued any positive features and focused only on what I did not like within myself.  I am a complex human organism–an ambulatory ecosystem the variation of which is still being explored.

The whole, while imperfect and filled with elements that could be removed, is pleasing.  I have learned to be kind, to think (most of the time) before I speak and consider the impact of my actions on others.  I have accumulated knowledge that was separately held–it resided in books, in the minds of others or in databases and library stacks.  It was not discovered or codified by me, but I have acted as the crucible for new understandings that have impacted my life and in turn, those of others.   Through my life, I am given the chance to be a part of something larger, and to discover that I bring an undefined quality that is greater than the simple sum of all its elements. When I put my hands in the soil or put forth my thoughts into the world, I am engaging in a dynamic system built on change. I am changed by it. And it is not finished yet.  This is simply a portion.

The future is not written.


But if my reading is correct, my opportunities, my available courses of action, are determined by how I think and what I think now.  So, I think it’s important to hold onto this idea that beauty or goodness comes in an infinite variety of shades and forms. It is never unalloyed.  The flaws, the needed improvements, are spice.  I must recognize that I am worth saving.  That I have the potential to bloom, to become, to grow.



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