Wednesday, June 19, 2013

oh how my garden grows

I spent eleven days on vacation in Maryland, drinking coffee and wine in a big green house on the Choptank river.  I drank beer on the dock and watched the terns sweep over the brackish Choptank, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, and the grasses in my garden back home shot up and did their own sweeping.  It rained heavily along the entire eastern seaboard while I was gone.  On stormy days the wind whipped up the bay's waters and made the river choppy.  At times, the water was smooth and glassy.  Other times, the water looked like a soft slice of avocado that someone had dragged a fork over.  The swallows with their scissor tails darted hectically above the water as the tornado force winds threatened to topple the USS Indian Outlaw while the osprey nest atop the post downstream swayed but stayed true.  On clear days, vultures and hawks would ride on currents of warm air, hundreds of feet above the meaty pinheads of the diamond back terrapins that would surface for a moment of air and dive again to pry black clams loose from the muddy bottom.  While I reveled in sea birds, romance, and wine, the weeds in my Massachusetts garden took cues from the thunder.  While I snatched clam shells from beneath the frothy breakers of the Atlantic, the fern-like fronds of the dill in my garden glutted themselves on rain and sun.  When a gardener turns his back, the eyes on his back grow strong.  I returned home to find a bloated beast, a pretty bloated beast.   

A picture never really captures a thing.  Anyone who has ever attempted to freeze an adoring glance knows that the feelings that attach themselves to such glances in the moment do not attach themselves through the wiry spindles in the backs of the eyes.  You can take a million photographs of the thing you love, but your eyes will never do more than trigger a memory, and memory itself is subject to so many wishful (or despondent) moods.  The only answer is to be present and always present, to always have your nose deep in a flower, to suck in what good air there is around you and to know how good that air is whilst you suck.  I am, of course, losing myself a bit here.  I have come home from a long vacation, and I have weeded and tended my garden profusely today.  Such is the pleasure of returning home to a garden.  There is so much catch-up work to do.  If my garden wasn't such a demanding animal, I would leave it more often, but one must always strike a balance between that which he loves and that which he loves even more.  There are two sides to every scale, and he who balances them does best.  

I must confess that I am slightly drunk, though I should say that I am primarily drunk on gardening and weather.  There are seabirds in my memory and, more recently, fresh asphalt and raw pine timbers in the hills of western Massachusetts.  I spent most of the day gathering plants by the fistful and slashing through those fistfuls with my knife.  Piles and piles of weeds.  Piles and piles of dill and chamomile.  I had moved from the mid-Atlantic to the north-Atlantic.  What had been the vapor of a thought behind a mallet and a pile of crab shells became a pile of greens that smelled like chlorophyll.  I gathered up pounds of dill and cinched them with plastic twine.  As the day progressed from 7:30 AM to noon, I watched my California poppies open.  I pulled garlic and tied back plants.  Ruthlessness has as much to do with gardening as does care.  When there is work to be done, you just rip rip rip.  It isn't about saving every precious green thing.  It's about selecting which green things you want to thrive and which you want to die, but a dead plant is only more compost, and compost is god. 

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