We need a new word for the meandering peregrinations our minds set out on while we garden--a flower or vegetable version of wooll-gathering. Bean-dreaming?
I love weeding. I know: I'm on my knees, my seventy-three-year-old-knees, but I have a great kneeler. So each summer when everything is finally in and the weeds have gotten out of control, I remember the delights of weeding.
I think it partly teaches me perspective. If I look at the whole garden, which has several entire forests of tiny elm trees, I quickly become overwhelmed. But down on my knees, when I take the lilliputian perspective, I can concentrate only what's in front of me. Occasionally I'll find a clump of weeds that I can wipe out with my garden claw, but mostly it's just one thing at a time. And that's more or less the way life is, given that human beings are pretty lousy at multi-tasking.It's also a great chance to practice seeing the trees rather than the whole forest. Weeds love to germinate in damp places that don't get too much sun and dry out too quickly, so they collect in the places where I've been watering, under my pole beans and the bamboo tents that hold their winding stems. They collect under the shade of tomato plants or among rows of beans. The row of carrots doesn't have the same advantage--there's no shade there, just daily watering--but maybe some weeds are sun worshippers from the get go. If you want your vegetables to get all the advantages from your watering and fertilizing, you need to keep them weeded, but it's an exercise in looking carefully, discerning the trees from the forest around them, getting yourself right down there. Weeding gives you the chance to observe I was talking about earlier in June.
(Did you see that rhubarb? It's a good four feet tall.)
And then we need to talk about soil. It includes microbacterium vaccae, a bacteria which triggers the release of seratonin, in turn lifting gardeners' moods and suppressing anxiety. But let's not stop talking about my mood there. I am outdoors with the sun and fresh air on my skin, with the scent of tomato plants--which for some reason is really nostalgic--and the scent of the pinks I included in my vegetable garden this year to feed the pollinaters, with the sound of birds at my feeder. My eyes breathe in all the shades of green in my back garden after a very long, very white winter. Weeding bathes all my senses--except for taste, that is. I can wait for taste until I pick the first tomatoes or handful of beans or until I put fresh basil on pasta.
But the bean-dreaming that gives me the most pleasure is the humility of what I'm doing, there on my knees looking for weeds among the tough stems of pole beans. Curious about an earlier time in my life, I'd returned to the reading I'd done then, which included May Sarton's journals and memoirs. She immerses us in the delights of a life that contained a lot of chosen solitude, a life fed by myriads of friends and her passion for her gardens. (She should also be given credit for writing frankly about lesbians, which she thought was her duty; because she made a living from her writing, she didn't risk losing her job by coming out. For this we should be grateful.) Many of the pages, as she attempts to understand the thunderstorms of her own character, are illuminating, human and humane. There are the inevitable writer's complaints about not having not enough time--but those are quickly followed by the reader's observation that she shouldn't go out for so many lunches or dinners with friends, shouldn't go off on so many weekend jaunts!
But what troubled me was that, by the end of her life, she had published 17 volumes of poems, 13 books of nonfiction, and 20 novels. Yet she worried constantly about her reputation--worried herself sick at times. Perhaps she didn't do enough weeding among the delphiniums and phlox.
When you weed, you are nature's hand maiden. A servant. And in return, you are given the all those experiences. The sound of a bee wallowing in a blooming Henry Hudson rose. The myriad scents of the garden. Air on skin that is more or less humid and sun that is more or less hot. At the end of your life, this is what you have collected--all those experiences you stopped to pay attention to that fed each day's delight in being alive. It is humbling. I've simply bumbled around trying to create deep and caring relationships, doing my best to be kind, to think carefully and clearly, to write carefully and clearly, and life has given me all this?