Beauty, gardening, Uncategorized

In the Garden of Time

20190301_152744 (1)Rain has fallen relentlessly the past few months in Santa Cruz County, but today a break occurred allowing the sun to come out, and I emerged into my backyard’s delicious light. Looking up at the billowing clouds, I rested in the afternoon’s quietness, reveled in the creek’s soft rumpling as it moved through the redwoods down the road. Ill with a cold, I had no plans but to take in the day. “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man,” writes Abraham Joshua Heschel. “God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.” Time is a temple, an experience to savor and relish. Today I felt enfolded in this truth.

On a recent trip to Hawaii, my husband and I connected with friends–walking, sitting, absorbing life. We arrived without any set plans. We simply wanted to be present with our friends and the world they inhabit. While there, we ventured out into the landscape, absorbing its fabulous diversity. Hawaii is a world different from where I live, and the difference is a delight.

Traditional Hawaiian society had defined roles for men and women. In traditional Hawaiian society, men cooked and farmed while women made art. Women and men ate in different locations, and inheritance was through matriarchal lines. Additionally, Hawaiians held an awareness of the mahu, those who identified themselves with both genders–someone in the middle.

In Hawaiian traditional culture, the idea of family goes back several generations. The physical family was part of the spiritual, timeless family. As depicted in the photo of the stone shrine above, Hawaiians honored family ancestors.

Traditional ways of thinking have eroded since the arrival of Westerners to the island, however. Because Hawaiians have highly adapted to Western culture and its way of thinking, restoring traditional ways is highly problematic. Nevertheless, learning something of Hawaiian’s traditional ways of organizing society helps me to view my own culture newly, to consider anew my relationship with family and friends, and to enter into an awareness of our spiritual connection.

Though I know little about my ancestors or their history, like members of traditional Hawaiian culture, I’m attracted to the idea of timeless connection beyond our physical bodies to the lives of those who came before us. 

To understand a culture not your own takes attentive, receptive study over time. Though people may not be able to restore what was lost in the multitude of cultures that make up the world we now live in, we can listen attentively to voices other than our own and find ways we might move toward greater restitution with those around us. We don’t have to agree with everyone to value them, to give them love. We may not have answers or solutions for the hurt people and cultures have endured. Nevertheless, we can build bridges of beauty that can unite us in larger fields of compassion so we can enter into a place of being together.

One way I’ve begun this effort is by planting in my garden favorite flowers for family members and friends–iris, poppies, sunflowers, dahlias and more. Though there are differences of values and perspectives with family members, looking out at the flowers growing and blossoming in the garden, I can notice life unfolding in its various forms, connecting the flower to the person who chose it–a living reminder of the many and varied lives linked to mine.

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up,” says Maya Angelou, “… our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.” Flowers touch the tender place in all of us where we are “shy as magnolias,” as Angelou describes. In the garden we can be alive together, planted in earth, recognizing our short lives and vulnerability as we take in the sun and rain. Without measuring one flower against the other, we can be together. Sometimes simply inhabiting time with one another, opening ourselves to its color can be enough.

gardening, poetry

Coming Back to the Garden

Gratitude Gardens
Gratitude Gardens

I sit looking out over my yard while I write, the sun neither too warm nor too weak– a perfect gentleness for a summer afternoon. I see the stone steps under the grape arbor, and the thyme that fits between the cracks, and think of how those cracks are like the summer holiday, the space in my life that I am hungry for. The quiet. I sit here satisfied simply to absorb the green and the random dove or falcon call. At unexpected moments the scent of redwood or pine wafts through. Restaurants and movies can be good. Shopping for supplies is necessary. But many of us also need to walk in the woods, go down to the river or ocean, sit by flowers or a slab of granite, or get our hands in the dirt to find ourselves again. I am one of those. This morning I decided to read Rilke again, and pulled from my shelf the volume of Selected Poems From Rainer Maria Rilke with translation from Robert Bly. In his A Book for the Hours of Prayer, Rilke writes,

1.
I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

As a traveler, I’ve circled around the globe exploring and discovering, but there is another kind of travel, that of the inner pilgrim, traveling within trying to understand what it means to live and how to live meaningfully so that we can learn who we are and why we are here on earth–what it means when we meet and greet each other, what it means to be in relationship to others, to the earth, to this place in time. Like Rilke, I don’t know if I will ever achieve this, but this is my attempt.

Herb Bed at Gratitude Gardens
Herb Bed at Gratitude Gardens

Here on my land while watering the garden, pulling weeds, or planting, I realize how deeply satisfied I am, how little it takes to make me feel content. I feel settled inside, whole. All the years of travel and exploration, these have been good. But the continuous striving that the workplace emphasizes seems irrelevant here in a garden that holds to an organic pace of being. Things grow according to the pace they were meant to grow at. The gardener nurtures them along by making sure there is adequate soil and light, plants the plants with others they are compatible with, tomatoes with basil for example, or strawberries with borage–but the true becoming is there in the mystery of biology and the seed. All the years of working and the practice of my work, reading, writing, and then I come home to the garden and sense I have found my true self, or it is at least a place I want to find myself in.

A metaphor for life, the garden has much it can help us understand about ourselves: that there are seasons and cycles for everything, the value of weeding to protect the life you are nurturing, that plants have personalities so to speak–some need more sun, others shade, which plants help them grow better, make them taste sweeter, and which protect. Gardens take work. If you want something to grow, you have to put in the effort by digging, planting, tending, and harvesting. Gardening can be a contemplative act. When you get your hands in the soil, you start to understand the connections to your own life. These are the connections I want to explore and know through our experiment in living here at Gratitude Gardens, a garden we are slowly building over the years here on our land.

At Gratitude Gardens we will raise our food and use the garden as a place to connect to the creative process in a variety of forms, for writing and art. We have planted herbs, flowers, grapes and fruit trees, and this summer are expanding the raised beds to make way for future food. Most anything we practice intentionally with our hearts can be a spiritual path that will teach us more of how to live if we are willing to view it in that way. For me, building a garden is an important part of that practice, and I want to believe there are others like me who feel hungry for the quiet, want to connect or reconnect to the earth and learn how to listen to what it has to tell us about life.

Gratitude Garden in its Beginning Stage
Gratitude Garden in its Beginning Stage

Adam and Eve left the garden. Everyone leaves. It’s the path of learning, knowing, of growing up. But we can come back too. We can make a garden. Yes, it’s made by the sweat of the brow, but that is an important part of learning what the gift of a garden is, and learning how to find yourself in one.

Maybe you, too, “have been circling for a thousand years,” or feel you have, and like Rilke, “still don’t know you “are a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” Why not go on inner pilgrimage? Discover and claim your path so you can find through that work how it is you can come back to the garden.

gardening

Coming Down to Earth

This morning, my husband and I lifted 7,000 pounds of rock from their wire containers and hauled them over to the ditch in about an hour and a half, where they will soon be made into a retaining wall. Yesterday we lifted 3,500 pounds of rock for the same purpose. Needless to say, I’m tired today. Nevertheless, it feels very good to be working with my hands, my feet on the earth, and working hard. It’s a contrast to my life during the school year where I meet with students, spend time commenting on student work, and go to various meetings. I love the contrast, the balance of those two ways of being. It’s so satisfying to look out across the yard as I did this evening, and say, I made those stone steps leading down to the house! It gives me joy to be able to see the physical results of my labor, and it was labor, too, as the earth here is close to being sand stone and required my using a hatchet to chop into it so that I could carve a space for the stones to fit. When I am standing on the earth outside my door in the summer, or sitting on it, fingers in the soil planting, when I look up at the sky and smell the redwood tree incense, I feel so full and alive, complete. Connected. Real. As Wendell Berry said, “One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use, is the gardener’s own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race.”

Mornings, I water the berries and herbs, the lemon tree and grapes. Since arriving in California this summer, the grape vine has grown about a foot, and the lemon put on numerous new leaves. My husband and I have worked to protect the berries by making a walk in wood-framed room hung with bird netting, which we are calling our berry palace. The juice of a boysenberry or a blueberry picked from our own vines and bushes exploding with tart sweetness in our mouths is a wonderful gift. Working on the land for our food, even the preparation of the land for food that we will later grow, helps me to see more clearly my place in the world, and how I am connected to all that is around me. I water the plants, and amazingly enough, they grow and become what they were meant to be. The diversity of life growing all around me seems a miracle.  Again, Wendell Berry says, “And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is “work.” When you work with the earth, when you learn about it and from it, and take care of it, you love it. Work, it seems, can be a path toward love, can be the way to come to know the meaning of the earth’s gifts from the inside.

Slowly, as I spend more time working outside, I’m becoming more aware of the intricacy and mystery of life all continuing on silently around me. Professor Suzanne Simard in British Columbia studies forest ecosystem and explains how the “mother trees” exchange of nutrients underground through intricate webs of communication through nutrients. Her work is fascinating. By continuing to listen to the land, we can grow to live better with it. Working on the land, even in small ways, is one way to grow toward understanding what it needs.

As a teacher, my life allows me to contribute to other’s in a way that enriches, and that opens exploration and opportunities for students. A teacher’s life is a good life because of this. As I am outdoors working these past few weeks, I feel a growing awareness of building a new life here in America, a life I will come home to someday. I don’t know what that life will be yet, or when it will come to pass, but I hope it is a life that will go on giving back to the world, and that will allow me to grow more connected to the earth, to listen to its mysteries, and to be able to share my discoveries with others.