Putting the garden to bed

I don’t like this time of year much; the gap between sun-up and sun-down being pitifully small and getting smaller; I huddle at my sunlamp or stride out on the rare days when the sun shines. I keep looking forward to the Solstice, when I know that it has become as dark as it is going to get and from then on, minute by minute it will get lighter each day.

I was reminded of this the other day, when Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton was mentioned and the line, “the still point of the turning year” was quoted. I pondered this and came out with the lines, “The year pivots, pirouetting en pointe, Dancer meets Dance: I am renewed”. But I still have four weeks to go through and because of her age and her cancer, my dog doesn’t want to walk when it’s cold and windy or wet and today when I thought she might go, she baulked, halfway down the street and decided the brisk wind was too much. We came home.

But the sun was shining and the air was mild for all the whipping wind, so I kept my coat and boots on and went out into our small garden and began a few chores. I used to love gardening but too many years of gardens too huge for me to manage alone (our last garden was about an acre) has put me off and in my mind I can no longer make the decision to potter for an hour. In the past, an hour was a mere drop in a deep, deep ocean and it was so disheartening to labour for an hour, and realise that in the grand scheme of things, you have done NOTHING, that even now, three years on, I rarely sneak out and fiddle about and do the little bits and pieces gardens seem to need.

I started by removing the dead strands of sweet pea that still twined around things, and it went from there: pruning, thinning, weeding, digging and finally sweeping all the dead leaves and bits of weed into a big pile at the end of the garden. I removed the mushy remains of the courgette plant and then reached further back in the border to pick the dead leaves off the irises. I went further and cut back the stems of the lemon balm; at several points I had to make a retreat, being warned off by one of our bees when I had clearly come too close to the entrance to the hive when she was coming in or going out. It was so mild that there was a steady stream of bees going about their business.

Now, I have scratched and nettled hands but a strange sense of satisfaction. I can look out of my bedroom window and see what I managed to accomplish in an hour and a half. I have more to do but I was starting to feel tired and the dog wanted to go in, so I put away my tools and came in for a coffee and a bagel.

Too often I put off starting a thing imagining it a task that is so huge it is better not to start unless I can finish it within a time frame that is oddly skewed. I’m doing this with house painting, but then I do know from experience this isn’t something you can stop once you start. But maybe I will wake up one morning and think, yes, today I will paint the bathroom.

There was a feeling while I was outside of being at one with my own small kingdom, of nurturing something I had been neglecting. At least tonight for once I can go to bed and feel I have done something worthwhile!

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7 thoughts on “Putting the garden to bed

  1. Viv,

    This was truly lovely – courageous with refreshing honesty.

    I’ve always thought that gardening, as it pulls us to our knees, reminds us of our place in life — to tend creation rather than to be its overlord. As I tend to humus, I am reminded that we are related at the root of my humanity.

    Your words took me many places —

    – they made me think of Soren Kierkegaard’s words, “Repetition is reality and it is the seriousness of life.” We breathe in and out, the sun rises and falls and we tend the garden without end.

    – I was reminded that Reality, was Evelyn Underhill’s word for God.

    – and it touches on the yet unwritten piece that has been brewing in my own mind for the last few days — a draft sets in my ‘Post’ box — called “Cirtrus Blues”. I plan to finish it later today.

    But if I take a step back, I see that what I loved most is that the entire spirit of your interlude reminded me of a little jewel of a book that I’ve read over and over; “The Quotidian Mysteries — Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work”” by Kathleen Norris. If you haven’t had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you with this excerpt, that she wrote on April 8, 1997 in response to a brutal nasty long winter…

    “…I set out one morning, ablaze with the warmth of an angry determnation, to shovel a path to the clothesline in order to hang something colorful there. As I began to handle the wet clothes, my hands quickly reddened, sturng wih cold, but it seemed worth doing nonetheless, simply to break the hold of winter on my spirit–and that our backyard had become And even though the clothes freeze-dried stiffly and had to be thawed in the house, they had the sky-scent of summer on them. And it helped.” p. 34

    As you say, taking baby steps helps open up our horizons and gives us back our life and our vision. It allows us to breathe again. And how lovely it must have been to breathe in clear cold air touched by the sun.

    Janell

    • Thank you Janell. I read this last night but didn’t have the strength to reply; and it brought tears of gratitude to my eyes for your kindness.
      I had what’s best described as a depressive crisis yesterday; couldn’t stop crying for half the day and had a dreadful night as a result of the mother of all headaches made it impossible to get to sleep except in bursts. Even strong pain meds didn’t touch the agony. feeling ok now but head is still hurting.
      I really must find that book, not to mention finally get round to reading Underhill….
      xx

  2. Viv,

    I’m sorry for your hurt.

    K Norris’ book also hints toward fighting off depression. May Sarton is another who faced this battle regularly. She speaks of it openly in her published journals.

    As for Underhill, I pick her up and put her down. I absorb Underhill best in small doses — even in small does, her words pack a powerful cerebral punch. Underhill is such a deep mystical thinker — while I’m more of a mystical feeler. But the stretch she gives me is good.

    Hope you are well by the time you find this.

    Janell

  3. Viv,

    If only all our hurts & wounds could be carried away with a strong gust of wind.

    And for the pain to come at you from two directions! Lord, have mercy.

    What do you find helps, if anything?

    Janell

    • Time. Nothing but time. A day passes, then another and the pain slowly becomes less.
      For the headache, I take strong meds but they help only a little.

  4. What a lovely ode to sacred gardening. Every act of tending is an act of love.

    Each act is filled with expectation of the flowering garden that so vitally depends on the love showered on it in the sleeping time before the coming dormancy.

    We, too, thrive best in the Spring after a cold and gray winter in which we’ve been warmed and tended by those whose lives intersect vitally with our own.

    We rejoice all the more at the Sun of Spring when the warmth in Winter moves inside giving quiet reassurance of the coming renaissance.

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