I owe you an apology.
No, dear reader, not to you. The apology I owe is to the garden.
Back in the annual romantic horticultural swoon of spring and early summer we spent such fond hours together, refreshing beds, working in compost, sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings, assembling the irrigation system, relishing the intertwining fecundity of soil and possibility. As the weeks went by I spent perspirational but soulful hours inside your gate, weeding, watching for predatory bugs and withering diseases. It was hard work, but it was good work. They were satisfying hours.
But in recent weeks something in me shifted. I wasn’t aware of when it happened. Even now I can’t pinpoint the moment, or the reason. Perhaps I got otherwise busy. Perhaps I was distracted. To be sure, COVID concerns have ground the reverence out of all kinds of things in recent months. Too many things have devolved to merely the functional, the necessary, the basic. Masked shoppers in stores barely make eye contact with one another; casual conversation is almost unimaginable. We get in, gather what we need, and check out as fast as possible. There is a vacuous wariness in the air between us that is almost as stultifying as the virus potentially within us. A joylessness has come to characterize us as the pandemic has dragged on. Head down, we simply get it done – whatever “it” might happen to be.
That could extend to the garden. But I can’t blame it all on COVID-19. After all, one could argue that the garden should have been the most powerful antidote to the malaise. Nature, growth, fresh air and soil, and unaffected work. Nothing about the garden’s daily needs has been altered by health concerns; neither masks nor social distance nor virtual interactions. The CDC has published no guidelines about safe gardening. All that was needed continued to be what always is needed – a hoe, a hose, time, energy and attention.
No, what happened in me was far more insidious.
My relationship changed - as human posture relative to nature so routinely changes. I became a user; an extractor; a predator of sorts – mining and pillaging the garden assets and stuffing them into the freezer, the dehydrator or the water bath canner as fast as I could with as little thought as possible. I’ve been going through the motions. Absent, suddenly, was the reverent partnership; silent was the stewarding joy. The prolific fruiting became an objectified warehouse – a rooted pantry - rather than a holy abundance. Gone were the hours spent scooting on my knees or leaning on an implement’s handle, lost in reverent appreciation. Past were the stolen moments I simply wandered among the rows, marveling at the progress, taking deep and satisfied breaths. Lately I have shuffled out with harvest crate, perfunctorily filled it with as much as could fit, and lugged it back to the house once the gate was latched behind me.
Minutes expended among the plants rather than hours.
It has been mechanical rather than marveling.
Taking; rarely giving beyond lifting the hydrant handle to drip a little moisture near the stems.
And so I apologize, and am determined to recover a warmer, more participatory way. Starting today. It was good to snap on the overalls again this morning, gather up some tools and get down on my knees. It was good to restore some breathing room around the young pepper plants transplanted late in the season that were getting crowded out and choked by extraneous and invasive growth. And it was good to notice among those now-liberated plants some optimistic prospects. It was good to tend early summer’s new bed that is sprouting the adolescent asparagus stems now fronding and gaining strength for years to come. And it was satisfying to finish weeding a row and turn to admire the progress. And yes, it was good to fill a bucket with harvest along the way – in the course of my work, rather than being the sum total of my work. We were in it together again.
And after something of a melancholic season, the simple therapy of it feels good as well.
And so I’ll be back – more patiently, more gratefully, more reverently this time.
More partner than predator.
In the meantime, thanks for all you’ve done without me.
I owe you.