On gardening and imperfection

Part A

Confession: Almost I would give up writing on any issue I care about, for the way in which I am tested in that area immediately afterwards.

I wrote about seeing work as play, and immediately began taking my own so seriously I could hardly stop to breathe.

I wrote about grace, and started coming down so hard on myself and others that I wondered if I knew the meaning of the word?

I wrote about marriage, and was handed a remarkably well-timed opportunity to come alongside The Boss in something I am terrified to do.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.

Part B

Confession: This is the time of year when I ask myself “Why do I garden?” and answer back “I have no idea, dear.” I adore planting. I drink it and eat it and sleep it. And I love harvesting—the satisfaction of fresh corn, new beans, rich tomatoes. But in between—!!

I was gardening yesterday, sloughing through weeds grown tall from neglect and too many days of rain. I hate weeding. Hate the endless, careful tending while doubting all the while that any fruit will come. It seems so ludicrous, after all, to believe that small wrinkled seeds and spindly stalks will yield anything tasty.

And I hate uprooting in one area what brings me joy in another—pulling violets and goldenrod and dandelions out by the roots when I actually like violets and goldenrod and dandelions. Just not here. Simultaneously I am babying volunteer potatoes and tomatoes that came up among my rows of corn, babying them though this is not quite their niche. Volunteering is a brave act and should be encouraged.

Then I walk out to my new-planted strawberries, and heartlessly nip every bud.

My dad says that many times, a dream God gives to a person must go through several deaths before coming to fruition. Jesus called the human heart a field, and I wonder about the stuff that comes up in mine. Does He smile a little when I offer to feed Him my first-year asparagus, bravely pushing out of the ground? Look, Lord—use this!

He smiles a little and waits. Not this year, dear.

Does He wince a little when he nips my earliest strawberry blooms? I won’t use them just yet. Send your roots deeper. Don’t get discouraged, girl.

He never uses the word immature with me, and only as I look back later do I see He could have.

Sometimes I send forth a profusion of verdure, half choking some in my effort to produce all. He lets it grow side by side, the useful and the misplaced, the pretty and the nondescript. In my best patches, ugly worms turn beneath the surface—jealousy, competition, reproach, self-gratification. If I allow them at the crops, they’ll chew the garden full of holes. But if I go on quietly growing the fruit, maybe they will turn out to be earthworms only, enriching the soil.

I don’t think He asks the fruit be perfect to be useable.

Maybe it’s okay that the upside and downside never quite match. Maybe some of life is potatoes, and the rather silly and nondescript plant dying halfway through the season is an essential part of the rich brown tubers beneath. Maybe some of life is corn, and the crazy shooting into height with almost no root at all bears a crop of gold.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.

Regarding plant theft

Confession: I am a plant thief.

Really.

If a plant has shoots growing out around the bottom, or leaves that look like they would root well, or seeds hanging out in the open, they will end up in my pocket headed for home. I can’t seem to help myself.

If you invite me over to your house, you’d better check your inventory good, both before and after. Some of it will be gone.

I am now banned from five states in the Midwest.

I have to label my starts by the place from which I took them, because I usually don’t know what they’re called until later. Alden Street rosebush. Willow Street bean trees. Grandpa’s nursing home plant. Spearmint from R— park.

And that doesn’t even touch the plants I actually ask for.

(Exhibit A entered into evidence:)

bean trees

(Exhibit B:)

spearmint

I don’t seem to have as many friends as I used to; I don’t get it. On the other hand, I have some really great plants…

You should probably help me think through the ethics of this, although I can’t say I’ll reform. What? You don’t think a blog audience is the preferred counselor of morality? Alright. If you don’t give me good advice, I’ll have to ask my pastor—but he’s upstairs right now.


* If anyone takes this post seriously, he or she will be buried alive in moist potting soil and then dug up and watered.

** If anyone does not take this post seriously, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The second year

In Holes by Louis Sachar, Stanley Yelnats is sentenced to eighteen months at a boys’ penitential camp, where each boy must dig a five-foot hole in the desert every single day. Five feet across in every direction, five feet deep. “If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy,” some people thought. “The first hole’s the hardest,” the other boys assure him. After a grueling first day of blisters, backache, and sun, he drags himself back into camp and compares notes.

“Well, the first hole’s the hardest,” said Stanley.

“No way,” said X-Ray. “The second hole’s a lot harder. You’re hurting before you ever get started. If you think you’re sore now, just wait and see how you feel tomorrow morning, right?”

“That’s right,” said Squid.

“Plus, the fun’s gone,” said X-Ray.

“The fun?” asked Stanley.

“Don’t lie to me,” said X-Ray. “I bet you always wanted to dig a big hole… Every kid in the world wants to dig a great big hole,” said X-Ray. “To China, right?”

“Right,” said Stanley.

“See what I mean,” said X-Ray. “That’s what I’m saying. But now the fun’s gone. And you still got to do it again, and again, and again.”

*****

The second year on a fixer-upper is the hardest.

The first year we were exuberant—the faults of the property didn’t matter, because we were going to change it all anyway. Fresh energy, fresh ideas, the newborn joy of acquisition. It was all ours!

We planted trees, bought animals, dug a garden, and mowed grass for hours and hours and hours.

Whew.

One year later, much has changed, but less than we hoped. Most of our trees didn’t live, killed by frost or deer or lawnmowers. Most of our animals didn’t live, killed by cars or traps or wild animals. The energy flags. The ideas age. The rose rubs off.

One year later, we plant more trees, knowing they may not live. We get more animals, hoping, hoping. We expand the garden, plant the seeds deeper.

One year later, I draw less joy from the idea and more joy from the act. Much more. I spill countless seed packets into fresh earth, although I have little faith they’ll grow. I just like putting them in.

We’re smarter this year, knowing how to do things a little better, and also smarting, knowing that our mistakes are just beginning. This is the only way we know to learn: knowing better than last year but not as much as next year. The second year’s the hardest.

The undeveloped brushy parts of the property bothered us a little, last year—the scrap metal and old tires, the thistley areas and overgrown banks—but only a little. We had the rest of our lives to fix it up. This year we mind them more. We’ve lived here over a year, you know? We should have had time to get to them by now…

The second year’s the hardest.

Shari dug her shovel into the dirt.

*****

“You’re right,” he said to X-Ray. “The second hole’s the hardest.”

X-Ray shook his head. “The third hole’s the hardest,” he said…

All too soon Stanley was back out on the lake, sticking his shovel into the dirt. X-Ray was right: the third hole was the hardest. So was the fourth hole. And the fifth hole. And the sixth, and the…

He dug his shovel into the dirt.

After a while he’d lost track of the day of the week, and how many holes he’d dug. It all seemed like one big hole, and it would take a year and a half to dig it… He figured that in a year and a half he’d be either in great physical condition, or else dead.

He dug his shovel into the dirt.

*****

Stanley dug his shovel into the dirt. Hole number 45. “The forty-fifth hole is the hardest,” he said to himself.

But that really wasn’t true, and he knew it. He was a lot stronger than when he first arrived.

–Louis Sachar

The sun’s birthday

Confession: Where I come from, this is how we do math:

seeds + earth

= the purest of happiness

Look what my dad made me:

hotbed

Last night he called to say “Do you want to come over? I have something for you.”

He’s pretty great.

(I think I would have said that even if he hadn’t made me a surprise hotbed, but you can’t be sure… and I never was good at hypothetical questions.)

So guess what I was doing today, when I was supposed to be making progress on an important document for a friend?

Yep.

a bit of earth

I needed this. Digging and turning, breathing and planting, losing and hoping.

The purest of happiness.

radish seeds

Did you know that if you cut bare forsythia branches and put them in water, they’ll bloom?

Before:

bare forsythia

After:

forsythia

My sis in law April taught me so. It took mine a full week, but the magic came.

forsythia 2

e. e. cummings:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Two-sided living

So much to celebrate, so much to mourn. Here’s something I’ve been formulating this week, still in embryo stage.

***

What does growth look like from up above?

Oh look look!

A wisp of green

A sprout, a shoot!

Twin baby petals, lushly dainty

Unfolding miracle

Pulsing life

And the color!

The radiant, vibrant, thirst-quenching color

Delicate tendrils

Elegant shape

This is how growth looks from up above.

 

What does growth look like from down below?

All this greening comes at a price

The desperate straining

Reaching upward, panicked for air

Oppressed by layers without

Torn by strivings within

Yearning for light

There must be more!

Put out a root

Groaning and travail

The stretching

And shattering

The reaching inward for depleted resources

All that I have tried to hold together is crumbling around me

 

This is how growth looks from down below.