So, we know I'm trying to become a gardener (says so just up there), but now we also know my garden looks like this. Clearly I am a bit resistant to actual gardening. I could spin you a web of time and non-childproof garden features and weather and unfurl at your feet my well-rehearsed Things To Do scroll, but I find time to make name signs (look right), so why not be out in the garden I want to learn from and grow with? Why not be physical and earthy in the way I wish to be? Too much death, that's why.
If you've been with me a little while, you'll know that my husband, Thomas, died six months ago. And six months, in a soul-deep bereavement, is just a wink of Kali's long-lashed eye. For half a year I have been creating a good home for my girl, making art for people I know and people I will never meet, writing stories and poems and blog posts, growing in many directions and watching Pickle grow with stellar speed. I have been gathering beautiful things for our house. I have been acquiring some first-shoot skill on the harmonica and taking us on adventures near and far.
I have been doing. I have not been undoing.
I have managed some sorting of Thomas's things, but mostly when they can go to someone who loved him to use. (Pickle now wears his favourite T-shirts as nighties, which breaks and gladdens my heart.) I have made changes around the house, but mostly in ways Thomas would have appreciated. I have been bold and brave and bloody amazing in my acceptance of his death, and yet, from the corner of my dream eye, I glimpse a waiting place... waiting for my husband to come home, to heal my heart as I could not heal his, and witness the capering wonder that is our girl. And perhaps the garden has become that waiting place.
How can I, then, when I have lost so much and leaned with such abandon on the nature around me, take a blade to Thomas's garden? I have loved the wild chaos of it; rested in its presence. I have been reassured by its unequivocal assertion of life. And I have only just started to believe that this could really be my garden and not me hacking ignorantly at a bounty which also waits for Thomas's care.
But. And it's a big butt. He is not coming home. The garden is now mine. Or, to borrow wisdom from Australian Aboriginal people, it is now I who belongs to this garden. Pickle makes her own explorations of it and celebrates every flat surface with chalk, but if this land will be anything other than an unweeded wilderness, it is me who must make the change. It is me who must kill and clear and pull and slice and manipulate. I'm finding it a challenge to summon the ruthless confidence in my decisions necessary for gardening. I am loving the soil on my hands, but not the blood. Dandelion blood sticks a long time. I'm just not a Conquistador at heart. I'd be a rubbish Crusader. I have no missionary zeal to persuade the fern which almost blocks passage up the steps that, on balance, it is better for it to die, or at least be very much maimed and constrained. Who am I to make such judgements of this land which I hold to be older, richer, wiser and stronger than this person-self can ever hope to be? Who am I?
Mulling on this as I winced my way along the hedge with loppers, one eye out for nests to arrest my anti-progress, it occurred to me that I have none of this angst when sculpting. I take a piece of stone, older than the earth from which the hedge grows, and I scrape and bore and riffle away untroubled by the dust to dust falling all around me. I feel creative, as if I am transmuting a stone created by a thousand influences into one created by a singular, more intentional, influence. That feels fine. That feels good, an honouring of the stone itself.
The difference is that I can experience, with a little imagination and a little opening of my soul, how it is to have one's branches cut or to be pulled up at the roots, but my empathy with my sculpting stone is more cerebral; less felt. So, the difference is that it hurts me more to cut green than to cut stone. Ah. And I thought this was about my great heartfulness. Ha ha.
Still I am left with the question of how manage this piece of land without feeling like (or being) a little copy of the imperialist patriarchy I am, unavoidably, a product of. I answer myself with semantics:
I will not 'manage' this land. I am not the boss of it. I come as a student; as an apprentice and as a child.
I will nurture this land as a parent nurtures a child by discouraging damage and encouraging nutrition.
I will tend this land as a nurse tends a patient by removing bacteria and offering love.
I will place all my senses at the service of this land so I can understand when I am getting it wrong and see the path to getting it right.
I hope these words will take root as I progress. And I hope it will be progress in the old-fashioned sense of making-things-better.
As an antidote to my blundering blather I leave you with Pickle in my parents' well-tended garden, happily watering the plants moments after rain. She watered the puddles, too, to watch the circles. Sometimes the wonder really is in the doing and there is a joy I could never think my way to.