The garden beckons. It’s a conspiracy of the most complicated kind. The Butterfly Vine taunts me with its tendrils inching far beyond its proper position in the garden. Today it’s tickling the Azaleas. Tomorrow it will attempt to strangle them. Murder in the first degree.
The Ivy ground cover creeps up the trees, slowly, as if I won’t notice that the host tree has fallen prey. I know the Ivy thinks if it just flashes that bright, fresh, new green smile at me I won’t cut it back.
The Musk Rose, now fifteen feet tall and thirty feet wide, is actively hiding its deadwood under leafy arches. It’s thorny protuberances have already eaten a small Mountain Laurel and now they’re heading for the front door.
When I walk in the gate I am greeted by a chorus only I can hear. It sounds like thousands of very small, high-pitched bells chattering in a busy discussion. It is the new growth in the Azalea bed asking me to come see the progress. As I leave the relative safety of the sidewalk to answer the call of the sirens, I am tapped lightly on the shoulder. The Wisteria is jealous of my attention to the bushes, which he sees as vertically-challenged, and wishes to speak with me concerning his journey across the trellis and up the roof.
I turn only to catch sight of the Pansies winking and blinking their huge beautiful eyes at me. They know they’re irresistible. To ensure my attention, they bow their heads, hiding their intense color so that I must touch them and lift their faces to behold the full beauty of their royal velvet cheeks.
“Excuse me. Excuse me. There’s a weed creeping up on me. It’s nasty and it’s rude and I don’t want it here.” The Violas are always complaining. “I’m thirsty. I’m hot. I want to leave my pot.” They’re a demanding bunch. Perpetual babies, if sometimes crybabies, but what a bunch of cuties.
The leaves rustle, reminding me that the grass underneath can’t breathe. The leaves are suffocation specialists. They know they’re destined to be compost. They have nothing to lose. The compost is like that crazy uncle everyone has. Dark and rotten with occasionally slimy thoughts, but totally nurturing to the ones he loves.
If a garden has never spoken to you, I’m sure you think I’ve lost my mind. My garden speaks to me all the time. I may look like I’m pruning and pinching and inspecting but I’m really listening as I escape myself and follow the voices through the jungle.
To be fair, it isn’t always the light chatter I’ve described here. Oh, it starts out light, wooing me into the jungle. Then it gets complicated. It speaks to me of the universe—and my place in it. It reminds me that my existence, and indeed everyone’s, is dependent on six inches of topsoil. We think we’re strong and superior, with huge structures and air-conditioning and grocery stores where everything is clean and wrapped in plastic. But without six inches of topsoil we’d all be food for worms.
A day in the garden reminds me that life is cyclical. There is a time to blossom and a time to rest. A time to shed the dead leaves and lie fallow. Not that I believe it for a minute. I seem to think I should experience never-ceasing growth. Resting is something I can do when I’m dead.
The garden removes me from my manmade environment and places me in the bed of creation. Before the womb, this is where I came from, the primordial soup pot, and this is where I will return when I’m done (at least the physical part of me).
Time spent in tune with the earth demands that I be quiet and listen. I once had a friend who told me that I needed to find my own heartbeat. He instructed me to walk into the forest until I found an appropriate place to sit. I was to sit still and be quiet until I could hear my own heartbeat.
“What does an appropriate place to hear your heartbeat look like anyway?” I asked.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” he replied.
I set off the next morning to find such a place. I walked with a mission for hours, analyzing and assessing places. After three hours I calmed and let the forest envelope me. I followed a small stream and came upon a large flat rock at the edge of the water. The sun rays were peeking through the trees, lighting the center of the four-foot surface of the rock. I had found my place.
I sat, twitching my foot, tapping my fingers, looking for…what? Just looking to have something to do with my eyes. No heartbeats heard here. I was as separate from the forest as a tree on the subway.
It took three days. On the third day the light changed. The sounds of the forest became a nearly silent symphony—a hundred different tones coming together to make music. Music which became so soft, so quiet, that it sounded like my own heart. I was no longer separate from the life that surrounded me. I was part of the greater scheme of things. I was part of the universe.
What I didn’t know at the time is that I would never lose my place in the universe. Once found, it is with me always. I’m just a little closer to it in the garden.