Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I've got a photograph of myself, probably around age 8, standing in my grandmother's garden with a ring of daisy's in my hair. The photo sits on my desk, and although the image is very faded it is a reminder to me of who I am at the core. What is it about the garden?
In my case, it is a "third place". The garden calls to me, especially in the early morning when the birds are singing. Here in Minnesota we have a small window for gardening and those of us who love it know what I'm talking about. We become manic, getting outside as early as 6am and staying outside until 9 pm. Of course the hours between 10 and 4 are for anything else that need to get done between gardening sessions. After the frost and before the humidity and mosquitoes set in, that gives us about three weeks of bliss. This year we've had no rain, so there is no excuse not to have annuals planted and weeds at bay by now.
Almost every type of life lesson can be learned in the garden. Here life regains the larger cosmic perspective where my role is neither central nor insignificant to the big picture. If one defines the "divine" as that force within us which wants to live, to create, to love, to play, to imagine, to make, to know, then the garden is one place where I experience it. Even though I spend most of my time alone in the garden, I am never lonely. I am surrounded by life stirring and a sense of connection I feel no where else. On one level, I am with my grandmother ( who has passed away), my father-in-law (who is very much with us) and other gardeners. It is very much like the joy of reading a great book and knowing a good friend is also reading it. You share the same world even though you are not in the same physical space. The other type of communion which occurs is with nature, as an artist. My senses are heightened and I am " in the zone". My neighbor is often out gardening at the same time as I am, on occasion we exchange pleasantries for awhile and then return to gardening. It is like watching young children do something called parallel play, they may be near one another but each of them is in their own little universe. Truly my attempts to describe this experience will fall short, it is in the doing, not the retelling where the magic lies. I know that my kindred spirits have their own version of what I am referring to, that place where all else falls away.
Not everyone has this kind of zen relationship to their garden, and let's face it, those of us that do have plenty of gardening moments that would not be among our "peak" experiences. There are the times when you are entertaining and feeling surge of pride in your garden and some kind soul points out the abundance of creeping charlie in your yard. You try to shrug it off as their problem but the glow has left you none the less. Or when your perfect ornamental tree is just the right size to accent your pond in the most marvelous way and it becomes infested by insects and needs to be cut down, leaving a vacancy which can't be mended. Indeed your gardening hobby can make it difficult to walk past weeds without feeling compelled to just pick a few, lasting upwards of an hour. Like all good relationships, this one requires maintenance and if you neglect it, the world knows the truth.
As with many of my third places, I will have to return to share more insights. It is past 4pm and it is a bewitchingly beautiful day out there so I must get back to the garden. I will leave with this final observation. I hum when I garden, I didn't even realize it until someone pointed out to me one day. Last year my son Ian was working with me in the garden and I heard him humming away. I smiled. He has caught the bug.