Peace to our Innocents, oh gentle peace to these sacrificial lambs we offer once again to the monied and mighty, who send in return their thoughts and prayers and speak of prices that must be paid, their hands held out for more and more. The cost of freedom, they say.
Light has fled the garden, like the laughter of shining children running to their next wide day. Flowers should not meet their winter in spring.
The sin is ours; we consent again and always to these savage partings, surrendering our tender buds to the hollow gods we bow before, another payment to endure before we settle and sigh once more, indolent and monstrous, draped in the silence of our darker world, waiting, hoping for better days.
Peace to the people of Uvalde, TX. We must change. We must do better.
Years ago, I came across a newspaper comic strip named Mutts, by the artist Patrick McDonnell. (That entire sentence makes me feel ancient.) One Sunday (10-15-2011), the comic resonated so much with my heart that I cut it out and framed it. A man walks his scruffy little dog, Earl, and gestures at the beautiful scene around them, saying, “Now is my favorite time of year.” In the second panel, Earl looks out at the reader and replies. “‘Now’ is always my favorite.”
I’m with Earl.
And if any chosen time-and-energy immersion underscores my feeling that “now” is always my favorite, it’s gardening. Co-creating with the Earth and her endless surprises within the (somewhat) reliable cycle of seasons has always been my favorite state of being.
In addition to the 3-dimensional and 4-season design invitations and challenges, decades of gardening also creates a sweet living scrapbook of memories. I have a peony my students gave me over 20 years ago, when I left teaching for writing. That time turned instead into caregiving for my mother, and there are memories everywhere of her last years and leave-taking. And when I returned to school for further studies and the work of spiritual care, I came home one summer day to discover the beautiful arbors Phillip had made and erected. There are the rocks we lugged home from many of the local farmers’ fields and used to ring our first gardens, and the lilac my brother and sister-in-law shared with us, along with treasured plants and cuttings from friends, and from charming nurseries no longer in business (and mourned).
For me, a day in the garden is a journey through the tapestry of my 25 years here at Full Moon Cottage. All the seasons and visitors and births and deaths a gardener can travel with in her small life on a small plot of land are reflected and concentrated in her garden. But there is more and it is magical: there is rebirth and renewal, that same healing and transformation I’ve seen in myself and in people I’ve been blessed to know.
And there is continual learning about the interrelationships among my plants, the soil content and microbes, the insects, and birds…so much about relationships accounts for the quality of one’s life, doesn’t it?
There are endless teachers and lessons for my heart here in the garden. Everything extrapolates; everything deepens; all is hallowed. It is the finest university anywhere. And, when the gardener learns to listen and see, there is poetry, music, dance, drama, and glorious visual art in the garden. There is mystery and eventually the acceptance, even anticipation and then love, of mystery. Better still, there is a quality of peace so pervasive that the heart returns to her deep true knowing: all shall be well.
Over the years, the garden and I have been through fierce heat spells, ice storms, flood, drought, heartbreaking loss, and joyful renewal. I have grown old loving these lives and tending their needs so they may tend the birds and bees and all other visitors to this land and beneath it. And still I rise with the sun and weave my day within and around these gardens for hours before the day ends. Time in the garden, like time with any enduring love, leaves me full of gratitude. And then I stand back and look at our co-creation and think, “Now is always my favorite.”
Like so many of our friends around the world, we’ve had weekly climate shifts this spring that defy reason, as with our political and pandemic shifts. It is the Age of Unreason, in humans and seasons, perhaps.
Last week, the days and nights were chilly enough that we used the fireplace. Our solar panels were being hooked up and an electric panel needed updating to manage that, but the electrician missed replacing the circuit breaker we needed to restart our geo-thermal heat, so the fire was a great boon through an icy night with temperatures in the 30’s (-0°C).
We’d begun to wonder if spring would ever arrive. Buds were tightly closed on trees; tulips and daffodils were barely up; nothing bloomed.
Today, the heat index will be in the mid-90’s (35°C).
So, I guess this past weekend was spring, 2022. The air temperature was mild and the world smelled new; all our old friends returned: the orioles, grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and scarlet tanagers. The poor hummingbirds buzzed in, searching in vain for blossoms to restore their bodies and spirits. We rushed to get their feeders out and they quickly crowded around and regained a bit of energy.
Spring flowers were coaxed towards opening, tentatively. We took our new e-bikes bikes for a ride on the trail, to London and back. (A very small town 9 miles to the west; to the east is Rome. Sounds impressive when we’re talking about our bike rides, right?) Afterwards, we worked in the garden together; the plants are barely peeking through the earth, but the weeds, of course, have been thriving.
So, one perfect spring weekend. And today, we’re in t-shirts, overheated, and watching our spring flowers droop. The tulips opened and their tender cups were quickly steamed and curling into back-bends. The tree leaves are unfurling, like us, into sweltering summer days. Next week may be cooler, we’re told.
I hope so.
These are rugged times: Like many, I’m still wary of catching Covid, since our numbers locally are rising again. It still shocks me when I realize I haven’t traveled anywhere for over 2 years. The pandemic continues to change the patterns of our lives, our economy, and many of our choices about the future. Climate change is–obviously–causing dramatic shifts in our weather that aren’t always predictable. Putin’s war with a country innocent of any provocation has added to the world’s chaos and further damaged supply chains and fuel prices. Our democracy is teetering and civil discourse has become a lost art.
Humanity’s response to this collision of urgencies often seems agonizingly childish. We have faced pandemics, political turmoil, and war, and survived them all, but adding climate change and its unknown rolling and torn-web effects makes the future precarious and our present actions imbecilic at best. We’re scrambling, stumbling, and failing at coherence.
Rather than adapt to challenges, we pretend they don’t exist.
We pretend the pandemic is past. We pretend the Earth’s jet streams will return to a “normal” that’s vanished forever; we pretend the continued destruction of the rainforest and natural habitats isn’t happening, and that tons of plastic microbeads in the oceans don’t matter, really. We notice the bird migrations are changing, and bird flus are rising; we observe that the acres and acres of ash trees have all died, and that so many species of plants, animals, and insects are rapidly going extinct, but we pretend none of this is connected to our daily actions and inability to stop living how we like, at the pace and rate of consumption we prefer.
Possibly, we’re overwhelmed by the amount of changes taking place, but I believe we can adjust and adapt more creatively and peacefully if we see the great adventures before us and meet them with our gifts rather than our despair, anger, and sense of scarcity. Frankly, there’s a lot we accept about the way we live in the world that’s utterly boring, completely uncreative, and devastatingly cruel. We can do better.
Traveling with ill and terminal patients taught me that changes rarely allow us to go back to “the way things were.” It’s comforting to imagine so, but that’s a form of pretending, too, since life was never perfect and never will be, and adaptation isn’t without its own comfort and joy; really, we just don’t like change and are inclined to view it as a threat to our stability and the safe circumference of what is known and what we control, however well or ineptly.
And change doesn’t come without grief; there’s always a farewell-forever entangled within the journey any change presents, along with anxiety, anticipation, and a variety of other feelings. Often, we can see that a transition’s joy outweighs its sadness, so we acclimate easily, but sometimes, as with the loss of a loved one, or a long-held right, or the extinction of species, habitats, and known weather patterns, the benefits of a given change aren’t apparent or seem nonexistent, so we resist, deny, turn away, become angry, and reject what is.
I was unhappy with my recent knee surgery and mourned what I perceived to be the loss of many activities and freedoms I enjoyed. But I located a physical therapy that worked surprisingly well, and we used the pandemic’s years of “vacation” funds to purchase e-bikes. I resisted at first, thinking they made us look old. Then I realized how silly that sounded and accepted the chance to get out on the bike trail again. I adapted to the change in my mobility and am happier than I’ve been in months. And knowing the motor can be used if I tire from pedaling gives me a great sense of security.
We’ve adapted to the presence of a highly infectious virus not by denying it’s real, but by staying home, waiting for vaccines, wearing masks in stores and crowds (still), and following experts’ advice to avoid illness.
We’re adapting to these climate shifts in our gardens by adding more and more plants and planting methods that feed birds, provide safe habitats, conform to swings in temperature and moisture, and still please our creative impulses. Because that’s one of the best things about adapting: the ways it challenges our creativity and the deep pleasure derived from meeting those challenges with answers that are new and co-created.
I think Ukraine has adapted creatively to the horrors Putin and his army have used in seeking to force submission and surrender. Ukraine has been strategically clever, strong, intelligent and unyielding in their resistance, and despite agonizing losses and Putin’s inhumane war crimes, Ukraine continues to amaze the world with their success. I believe they will not be defeated and Putin will be held accountable. He clearly cannot adapt to present reality, lost in past and imagined national glories as he is.
And in my country, I think we have to resist the urge to become enmeshed in violence, anger, and demonization of the other, and “do hope” instead, because hope is not a feeling; it’s an accrual of actions we choose and build upon, creating solutions where none were apparent before we applied and combined our gifts. Adaptation requires our willingness to do hope. And when we immerse ourselves in creating adaptive solutions, we have no time for hatred and fear. If we want balance, peace, joy, and community, we must be those qualities in the world. If we believe we come from Love and it travels with us, always, then adaptation is a method to co-create the ways we are always traveling from known to unimagined blessing.
First, there’s lots of what-ness, then an inundating who-ness, many years of why-ness, how-ness, with a sprinkling of where-ness, then long and quiet moments recollecting all the when-ness, and yearning for past who-ness, while releasing why-ness, how-ness, and forgetting most of what-ness, just a you-ness in an all-ness.