Thursday, December 21, 2006

In memoriam

I returned to my garden a few weeks ago after a long absence. Late fall was my last opportunity to plant the garlic and shallots I had ordered a few months ago. Had I known at the time that life was about to pick me up like Dorothy in the tornado, dropping me later into a foggy November afternoon, perhaps I would have reconsidered that order. Or perhaps not.

I believe that a garden serves as an anchor, grounding the gardener in fundamental and unchanging cycles, offering a chance to be an active part of a beautiful earth. And that such an anchor provides comfort in the face of adversity or sorrow. Resuming gardening duties put that belief to the test.

My garden was much as I expected after being abandoned high in the harvest season. All dead. Skeletons of sunflowers loomed over giant squash lying in pools of decaying foliage, tomatoes were reduced to water balloons. Standing alone in a deserted community garden I was tempted to dwell on this death and decay. But that soon passed. If I wanted to finally taste ‘Red Toch’ garlic next summer I needed to plant it now. And so I planted. The familiar exercise of planting, at once mindful and mindless, began to work its magic, recalling the fragility of life and its underlying optimism.

My father often told me about his grandmother’s garden. Though not a gardener himself, he seemed to take particular pleasure in knowing that I was following her path. Whenever we spoke he would never fail to ask how my garden grew. I sat beside his bed only a few weeks ago and we spoke of Gram’s beautiful chamomile, his part in the harvest, and the fragrant tea she would brew from the flowers. His shared memory reaches across time, across death, and gives me comfort. In some way, then, I honor his memory with my garden.