For weeks now I have been utterly and completely lost in the garden. Planting, pruning, digging, and expanding– the pursuit of growing things has literally devoured my life. What began as a modest vegetable garden last year, is now in the midst of a transformation. For years I have been dreaming of pausing in one green place long enough to begin a real garden. It seems I have arrived.
Gardens are a continual effort, a perennially unfinished masterpiece of otherworldly patience and intense work. I try to keep this in mind as I am rushing out in every free moment I can muster, returning to my garden as surely as the tide. There is too much to do to! I try my hardest to be a powerful force– moving earth, willing new seeds to grow, and imagining abundance. I have wrapped my mind so tightly around the changing of the land; there have been nights when I have awoken calling out the names of plants in my sleep. The hills of herbs surrounding my house owe much of their beauty to the inspired designs of this mid-night dreamscaping.
This time last year, freshly washed up in these blue mountains, Owen and I were knee-deep in the backbreaking work of beginning our garden. We did everything by hand. Digging in the shapes we had imagined, peeling back the sod, knocking out the top soil and turning turning turning. It was a whirlwind. Most days felt like a sweet and heavy fog. By mid-summer we had a sizeable plot of land growing with our veggies and annual culinary herbs, as well as a few curving beds of perennial medicinals.
Behind our house leads a sunken path of stones and a quick angle of steps to the most precious sledding/twirling/sky gazing/cartwheel-turning hill you have ever seen. Last year, we didn’t do much up there besides dig a fire pit and mirthfully blunder around in the rain on late night bellies of wine. This year, we planned to transform part of that gentle slope into an abundant terrace of flowers and medicine.
In the fall I mapped out the places where I wanted to begin and covered them with a thick coat of leaves. When spring came the grass grew up so quickly my careful outlines became ghosts. Between an insurmountable stack of seeds, a wagon-load of plants from the Asheville Herb Festival, and many happy donations from friends in high (and abundantly growing) places… we were replete with the makings of a wonderland. Two months ago we began the painstaking process of digging, tilling, and leveling the land by hand. The more I worked, the more I wanted to work. My original plans multiplied and I continued to dig. Since then I’ve torn open both hands and been sunburned more times than I can count. My whole body has become stronger, I can visibly see it. What felt like a struggle a month ago, now just feels plain good.
With so many hours of quiet work, I’ve had a lot of time to think. The most incredible thing about gardening is how recklessly close it brings you to yourself. For long stretches of time, you do nothing but work with your body and roam the hills of your mind. The lucidity of sweat and the high sun can pierce through even the thickest tangle of thoughts. It is spectacularly clearing. Linger in the privacy of dirt and earth long enough, and tiny tunnels through the underbrush will undoubtedly appear. Over the past few weeks, physically breaking new ground has had a profound effect on me. Recently, I have been waking up on these cool mountain mornings with a lingering sadness. Seeds may be sprouting and weeds climbing back to reclaim their homelands, but life still goes on in its endings. No matter the origin of your grief, there is no stronger medicine than giving your troubles to ceaseless hours of intimacy with the ground. It is so exquisitely easy– with your knees in the soft soil and the worms pushing themselves back underneath the surface– to just let go. Bury yourself there.
Like the packed clay of unworked soil, sometimes the only way to dislodge a hard truth is to start digging. It hasn’t all been gulping and gritty lessons though. There’s been a lot of light and laughter and funny realizations as well. For example, I’ve recently recognized that I have a quite ridiculous tendency to circumnavigating outside help and do things the hard way. Ever since I’ve been a young child I’ve been a “do-it-myself-er.” (Apparently this was my mantra for a while. This “i-do-it-myself!” obstinacy culminated with a refusal to take food from my parents. For a brief period of time they actually had to leave my meals on a low, child’s size shelf. If unwatched, I would surreptitiously slink into the kitchen and then dash away with my hard earned dinner.)
I have had several friends visit in the midst of all this digging and gently suggest, “why don’t you just rent a rototiller?” An excellent idea. But also, for some bizarre reason, completely unappealing. I think I’d rather partake in the multi-step, very physically intensive, process of removing the sod, turning the soil, and then perpetually deweeding for weeks. Hm. Here’s another one: the wheelbarrow we bought last year has had a flat tire since the second week we used it. Instead of sourcing an air pump, I’ve just been carting compost and mulch around in a laundry bin for nine months. The other day, as Owen and I were lifting the wheelbarrow up and actually carrying it, full of sod, back and forth across the hill, it really hit me– it’s high time for change. Luckily, I am getting lost nowadays in the ultimate master of metamorphosis. The garden is a mighty teacher, and I feel so lucky just to be learning.