It was one of the rainiest springs ever recorded. We wanted to plant a huge garden this year but the flowers have folded in on themselves. Gardens planted by Mother’s Day are mouldering. At last the earth is wringing out after months of wet. Now my front bush is half dead, my backyard weedscape dense. It’s nothing like Klimt’s Farm Garden with Crucifix or Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. But a girl can dream.
“The entire simple cycle of life that so much preoccupies [us] and which all religions interpret with veneration, takes place unambiguously, rapidly, and in silence in the garden.”
Each spring the earth’s wisdom confounds me. How does my apricot tree know when to bloom? The humble carrot tops reach for the sun and say hello? The integrity of every tulip. The miracle of life springing from seeds and dirt. Even the dandelions speak: the earth is alive. Magic is at work. Look.
We went mushroom hunting last weekend, following a fire line down to a river. Our guides had twenty years experience, they knew the secret off-trail spots. The earth sodden, loamy. At first we didn’t know what we were looking for. One of our guides a la Gandalf (hat included) stood back surveying the land and thoughtfully pointed in the direction of a small cluster, “Three feet ahead of you,” or “Near the base of that tree.” Silently we filled our bags. After only a few minutes of hunting I wiped my cheek, streaking it black with earth and ash.
When we venture out, we meet holy. The act of shutting the door to one world opens another, deep in soil and heart. No matter the weeds. Quieting the chatter occurs when we’re far away from it all.
The most mushrooms grew near the trunks of giant hollowed out trees, toppled from a recent fire. One prone tree looked the length of a few houses and thick as an elephant. Time passed and we wondered aloud, was it a coincidence mushrooms grew abundantly in the ash? No. Trees and growing things germinate with fire.
Over the years my Eden has changed. It was a holy place of newlywed communing and grad school. Then it became four babies in five years and the madness of those suffocating years. Then it became whole cities, changing landscapes that held us, taught us. It’s now a future with three teens and a tween who won’t stop growing, a horizon we approach endlessly. And yes, we met it that afternoon mushroom hunting, despite our kids complaints. Reluctantly I realize the fires of our lives have also helped us grow.
Emerson speaks of a kinship between man and vegetable, a delight, an occult relationship. Trees that nod and you to them, knowing in your bones you’re in the right place at the right time. I experienced that déjà vu on the muddy trail to and from the mushroom hunt, as if walking a dream into a known past connected irrevocably to the future.
Everything I grow, I kill with the exception of an apricot tree, a persimmon bush, and two houseplants.
Over the years my track record includes pruney potted plants, sun-dead marigolds, wilted fronds in a corporate-sized bucket (we decorated once as our Christmas tree), courtyard bougainvillea, and those lush hanging plants from Costco. I’ve stopped investing in them all.
Is my lack of green thumb bad timing? Too little patience? And how did my parents effortlessly cultivate a garden of asparagus, carrots, beets, tomatoes the size of fists, and dozens of peach trees? My mother even grows lettuce — all in the middle of the Mojave Desert in the shadow of neon and glitz.
“The Garden is gained through practice, not by aspiration.”
I’ve come to accept my Eden exists elsewhere. I find it in dailiness and strife: writing, running and time with family and friends. Rain walks with my kids, playing chess, mushroom hunts and neighborhood barbecues — my husband running his barrel smokers with oak and apple.