I’ve been working in my garden a lot lately. Not vegetables. No, it’s plants of all types – a mature perennial garden. Hosta, lilies, astilbe, coral bells, sedum, fern. Lots of fern. Way too much fern. And a lot of plants that only my wife knows their name. It’s a lot of work.
Every year I’m impressed anew at the rapid rate of weed proliferation, By the time I know what’s coming back from the previous cold winter, the weeds have already taken over. It’s always too late for prevention, so I focus on remediation.
My back gets tired and I get achy from being hunched over, or on my knees, or hauling bags of mulch, but there is something zen for me about working the dirt. I get filthy, caked in mud, pounds of dirt under my fingernails. A dirty spectacle for sure, covered with grit and grime and sweat.
It all can be so overwhelming. My yard is not that big, but even so, looking at the vast proliferation of thistle, and creeping charlie, and those stupid little maple trees, and fern – too much fern – and other things that I otherwise like, but have migrated to places I don’t like, taking this all in together can be overwhelming and paralyzing. I have this desire to fix it. All of it, quickly. But I can’t. It’s too much. It’s not possible.
So I break the pieces down. I’m going to focus on this little chunk of the yard today. This chunk is going to look great, even if the one next to it does not. Maybe I’ll work on that one tomorrow if I’m not too tired. Seeing a small chunk completed makes me happy, and temporarily satisfied, even as I consider the enormity of what remains. Maybe, eventually, I’ll get to all of the pieces, maybe I won’t, but today there has been progress.
As I work the dirt, breaking it up in my hands, digging, burying, trimming, redistributing, I think about things. Lots of things. It’s quiet around me, but within, not at all. These things just keep rolling through my head. My older son, trying to launch as an adult, struggling with his mental health over the last six months. It’s been so hard to watch, and to feel so powerless and to feel so scared. I think he’s coming out the other side. The new job helps, and his new girlfriend. We see a lot more of the old him these days. It’s trending well.
My younger son – lovely, kind, and decent. A joy to be around. But ordinary things are frequently so difficult for him. What does the future hold for him? Everything in his life so far has cut a new path, one not well walked by others. Maybe it’ll all be fine. I’m sure it will all be fine.
My wife, things are changing for us, you know? After 30 years together, we’re heading into new space, as we have other times in the history if us. We’re evolving and changing and maturing as individuals, and sometimes our marriage gets dragged along for the ride. Where will it go? How will the story turn out? I don’t really know, but I’m preparing for the journey.
I sometimes think about John and Barb, my old friends, from whose own garden I drew so much inspiration. Mine will never be as nice as that one, but I’m trying. Maybe mine is just different. Maybe it doesn’t need to be that nice.
There’s my job, my relationships, obligations, problems I need to address, repair, prioritize. So many things to do. So many things I can’t control. So big is all of this, so wide and vast. So daunting. It’s too much, when you look at all of it, and I don’t know how I’ll possibly take it all on.
So I work the dirt in front of me, on my hands and knees, with my little hand trowel, with sweat dripping down on the leaves, breaking it up the soil in my hands, digging, burying, trimming, redistributing. I just need to get this little 10×10 chunk of earth right. That is my goal for today, to fix just this spot right here.
But there’s this thing that happens, every once in a while. Sometimes, if I allow myself such a moment of zen, I look up and look around at this vast, uneven, ever-evolving, partially groomed garden, and what I see is something amazing, and glorious, and perfect.