This year, I planted the garden how I was drawn to this patch of earth in spring — not how I thought I should plant it. For years now, I’ve been the most diligent of gardeners — all those tidy rows of beets and broccoli. This year, I ate some radishes and let the rest go to seed and flower. Marigolds run rampart. I duck beneath the sunflowers. Somewhere in the calendula the peppers are hidden.
There’s a definite metaphor here, a clear lesson, but to heck with that. August and flowers. They’ll last little enough as it is.
On my way home from Bookstock — a terrific book festival in Woodstock, Vermont — I stop at a farmstand for strawberries. I’m a little dizzy with heat, with talking, with the sheer writingness of the day. No one’s around, and I admire the lake across the road.
The farm owner backs up his truck. End of the day, he’s pulling in what remains in the wooden stand. We talk for a little about the pontoon boats and how the lake is surprisingly deep at his shoreline across the road, a perfect temperature for swimming.
He tells me about the alarm that sounded in his greenhouse recently when the overnight temperature dipped near to forty. We’re standing in near-90 degree heat but Vermont weather is fickle. The farm owner was a patron in the library where I worked. I bought political books for him that maybe no one else but he and I read. Cold winter days, he’d sometimes appear and read silently for an afternoon and then leave with a stack of books.
This day I’ve driven on blue highways down the heart of Vermont, along rivers and through narrow valleys, past homesteads with fat gardens, through classic white clapboard villages and a town center dominated by a post office and a rusting flag pole. On one farm, TRUMP is painted on a metal storage box beside the farmhouse where the roof is bitten out in pieces. Lilac bushes cover the first floor windows. An RV in the side yard appears to be the occupied space.
I buy two pints of strawberries. The farmer loads up his truck. I stand at dusty roadside in the hot breeze. Bring it on, I think. Summer. The strawberries are the sweetest I’ve tasted in years. Nourishment from the goddesses.
A colleague and I discuss our somewhere-in-the-pandemic plans: gardening and creativity and as much outdoor time as possible. We’re somewhere in the pandemic; that’s our determination. This somewhere might extend for a very long time yet.
This week, I was invited to a FB event where people all over the country signed in. I began by talking a little about my own dear state — tiny Vermont — whose entire population of 650,00 souls is less than many cities in this country. Some villages have a post office and a single paved road, a scattering of houses, streams and trees, gardens and swing sets. Since I was talking about my book and addiction, I spoke about how the wide world seeps into the most hidden places in my world, too. And yet, our lives go on. That same, age-old question — how to find meaning in our lives?
Memorial Day in Vermont is a big deal. The town cemetery beside my house is freshly mowed. New flags wave near stones. All week long, families have been tending gravestones. May is the season of lilacs and green. I make notes for the weekend: tend my garden. Make friends with the new neighbor and the scary dog.
My daughters each go their own way today in search of waterfalls with friends. It’s a perfect day for waterfalls, the temperature hot, the air drenched with sultriness. I remain behind in my garden’s dirt, moving Jonny Jump-Ups and sowing seeds. The world is alive around me with pollinators and earthworms and the chorus of nesting songbirds. It’s lilac season, here just for a few moments. I remind myself to breathe in, breathe in, while this sweet season lasts.
Days like this — or even hours or moments like this (see dandelions above) — remind me that the human world is poor shakes compared to the universe around us. All these things that nag and nip and plague me — from inspecting a car to wondering if my daughters are happy — fall into some kind of place on a sunny May afternoon in Vermont. These things are important; not for a moment am I trying to belittle our human days.
But this is, too. As I crouched in the field to take a photo, a woman bicycling by called out to me. “What gold! It’s cheeseburgers for bees!”
She got off her bike, and we stood talking to each other across the field. I suggested she look at the marsh marigold behind the grange. She mentioned the spring beauties in the woods.
Overhead, the clouds morphed and shifted. Come January, the field might be passable only by snowshoes. But for now, she and I called back and forth, the wind lifting and tugging our words.
“No creature is fully itself till it is, like the dandelion, opened in the bloom of pure relationship to the sun, the entire living cosmos.”
Sunday morning, a light rain falls. The rain is a gardener’s dream, a light but steady enough drizzle, interspersed with sunlight. Our world grows. I stayed up late the night before, reading The Year of the Horses, and maybe it’s nothing but exhaustion — and who isn’t exhausted these days, anyway, but the kids — but I keep wandering around, in and out of the house. To the garden to move this or that. Then back inside to wash a window or sweep away some winter cobwebs.
Washed by rain, the colors in my garden are vibrant. I have this strange feeling that I’m inhabiting the Middle Ages, the realm of chivalry and honor, a time when art is justly valued.
All day long, I work at this, back and forth, making some kind of order in my raggedly life. Before too long, I know, the weeds and the black flies will swarm me. I might be overwhelmed with the messiness of gardening. But for now… just this potential. Just this moment. A single tulip, blooming.