Wednesday, October 12, 2005

my garden at fall


I walk outside tonight with the dog, and the garden is hushed not in sound, but in lack of energy. I cannot put my finger on it, but this summer has been mostly a bust in terms of my plants, hit by hordes of j. beetles, heat, and irregular rains.

We have not had a huge drought this summer -- in DC last month, I was shocked to see how hard and dry the land was in the midst of a late summer mini-drought -- here, instead, huge soaking rains come for two days, enough for the plants' salvation, and then we go days on end without moisture. Sometime last week, the temps began cooling down, and the earth in this area looks a little unsure of whether or not the fall season has come.

The cool temps of fall often have the effect of raw electric power arcing through the ground, through the trees, through the air. I look up Rilke's "Herbstag," an ode to the season. But not so much this year.

The asters were ok, but are already almost finished The big brilliant sedums had blooms for maybe three or four days before they browned. I have no mums. The japanese anemones have not disappointed me -- their floppy stems of pink petals are amassed along one of my borders, and even the transplanted groups here and there in the yard are showing some bloom, too. One of my DAE roses are abloom, round, complicated petals of white, or a pink that could pass for white, so pale and carefree. The beautyberry is having its best year, its long branches covered in thick clusters of purple berries.

The perennial begonias are ending, their bracketed blooms stretched out as if their elastic had been stretched too far. Usually it is the first freeze that stops them. I think they are just tired this year.

Or maybe it is me who is tired, unsure, unpassionate about the end of what should have been a rip-roaring world of color in my perennial borders. Not every season is the one that you remember, the ideal stuck in your head of a perfect period of gardening.


A few weeks ago, I had a few hours on a Saturday to clean up my borders, define the edge better, get rid of plant stems no longer necessary. I left lots of cone flower seed head, their purple petals already wilted away. The yellow finches love these seeds. I can tolerate the dark blackened stems for the price of seeing the little birds darting in their lemony hue, in pairs, in and out, as thrilled as all the hardworking bees who gather in the garden too, a constant source of paying attention to each and every petal of flowers. In the in-between spaces, I see the white moths, also a near constant throughout the warm growing season, also playful and flitting. On odd days, beautiful and exotic butterflies pass through. Green backed humming birds, too. But as thrilling as those visits are, it is the regulars that I appreciate the most. They far exceed my own interest in the garden. Maybe it is me who is the visitor in their workplaces and residences.


We're going to have rough days. Is that one of those life lessons? Do we walk faster when we are in them, trying to not look at things in the eye, head on, hoping that we will forget whatever the rough spots are and get on with our lives?

A friend is dying now. Friends whisper to each other, is this it? Each visit may be the last. Am I already saying goodbye now, trying to erase that which reminds me of the stark truth of her life. Of mine? Of others I know? Our church choir has started practicing the appointed plain-song chants of the burial rite. At first, we do this on the rehearsal days that she misses. Later, we all talk about it, and decide that we should ask if she would like to practice it with us on the days she comes. We practice because singing during a friend's funeral is a very hard task, and somethings need to be learned well. These powerful, heart aching words come at the beginning, and we will chant them as we process into the church. So somebody talks to her, and yes, she says, I want to sing that. Don't hide it from me. So she comes, and suddenly it no longer feels like we are hiding something from her. And we sing it with her, and it is about the singing, about the words, not some image of what will happen. We live together in the moments. Dying will happen, For all of us. We are responsible for our living.


Flannery O'Conner once wrote that a writer was sensitive to and affected by all things in the world. In our wired world we see realities in New Orleans or Pakistan, sad, horrid stories. Or another bombing in Bhagdad. The sorrows and tragedies, many incomprehensible, maddening, perplexing.

The news media takes our watching as an opportunity to practice scaring the hell out of us. Perhaps the end will come in a horrid flu or some act of terror. Or not. Boast not thouself of tomorrow, the writer of Proverbs wrote in antiquity, thou knowest not what the day will bring.

Time is perhaps the oddest of all human experiences. Gardening slows the pace of time, making it slower than minutes or hours. When I garden, I forget about the clock. I look up and see how much daylight is left. And I start digging or weeding or pay attention to a task, and time slows.

Is it hot? Is it cold? Is it time to water because it has not rained in more than two weeks? These are the questions I face if I am in the garden, looking at the signs of leaves, of the dirt.

I think that this could be trying to escape, to forget about all the sorrows on the planet. Perhaps it is a gift, time to be balanced with the knowledge of the world, of work responsibilities, of family roles and relationships.

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