Every last sputter of life has gone to sleep for the winter--no more work in the garden other than to pour a bucket of wood ash from the fireplace now and then on its bare soil. I look at that ground, and I think about all the hours I knelt there fostering this kind of life over that kind, nurturing, babying, tending, then later pruning when life became so robust it would destroy its own promised future, finally pulling up by the roots when life became too much effort for its feeble stem to carry, especially as environmental conditions became dire. I think of how often my hands grew raw pulling weeds, or my feet wet and cold as I inadvertently splashed them in a morning watering. But all that is finished for a long season, and now and then I gaze through my window out at the flat soil and I remember other mornings, early summer ones when I'd peek out at the earliest light to see whether the summer squash were appearing on the vine, or whether a tomato had taken on even the slightest tinge of pink yet. Now all that is left are the here-and-there reminders of those days gone by: decaying stems and leaves, a pinkish pepper, washed out and long-faded from the blood red of its days on the vine, a few shoots of garlic that tried to grow too soon but gave up when a deeper cold took up residence. I look out and wonder what the next garden will look like.
It is not quite time to plan yet...not quite, but it is certainly time to take the long view.
Why do all the work? Oh, the benefits to my family's bodies, to my neighbors' pantries, to holiday tables--these are all quite valid, and I've categorized them here in this garden journal. But why the strange swell of tender joy in my heart at the sight of a little three-leafed cucumber plant bobbing about in even the slightest breeze? Why does putting my hands into the earth touch that deep place in me? Why do the butterflies and the birds, yes and even the thieving chipmunk make me smile?
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk born nearly to a century ago, wrote strong spiritual words that describe my heart's song about this. He described a small French town where he briefly lived, described it in terms that very much fit my own feeling about this life of "cooperation" with the rest of creation. I thought I'd share those words with you, garden reader.
The whole landscape, unified by the church and its heavenward spire, seemed to say: this is the meaning of all created things: we have been made for no other purpose than that men may use us in raising themselves to God, and in proclaiming the glory of God. We have been fashioned, in all our perfection, each according to his own nature, and all our natures ordered and harmonized together, that man's reason and his love might fit in this one last element, this God-given key to the meaning of the whole. Oh what a thing it is to live in a place that is so constructed that you are forced, in spite of yourself, to be at least a virtual contemplative!
So there it is, my deep heart reason for loving what I do enough to remake it new every year. When spring says "Wake up!" the bare little garden has almost no power within itself to be a thing of beauty and health to mankind--not after what civilization-building has done to the landscape.
To be a nice level lawn where a dog can chase a Frisbee or a child can pitch a ball with his father--this is a noble enough purpose for a back yard to exist, but to enhance that purpose with a plot of life-sustaining produce...well...all I can say is: no wonder my garden makes me smile.