Friday, May 04, 2007

Spirits in my garden

I have cross posted this largely from my entry at where I am the Contributing Editor of the Religion & Spirituality section.

As a kid, I didn’t just dislike gardening. I hated it. We had a huge vegetable garden every summer, not for fun, but because we needed the produce. My garden chores would be done under the hypercritical eye of my father.


Sucker the tomato plants.

Pick big, fat, horrible green and squishy worm-like bugs off things.

Pick and shuck the corn.

Snap the peas.

I’d come into the house itchy from prickly garden leaves, dirt ground under my nails, tiny bits of corn tassel clinging like glue to my clothes. I would watch American Bandstand, a show full of teens a million miles away in every way. I’d snap the peas and feel every mile.

My mother’s garden was different – full of flowers and vines, colored leaves and blossoms. I liked spending time there, but still hated doing garden work. Not so for my Mom, who would wake up at five to be out in her garden wearing her “dungarees” and weeding with joy. She’d be humming to herself as she’d flip back a vagrant hair from her brow, and then fall happily back into her tasks. She took ecstatic pleasure in gardening until the day she died. We knew Mom died while she was happy, because she died in the blink of an eye while reading her latest garden catalog, planning her spring garden.

I hated gardening entirely -- until after my Mom died. The following spring I was filled with a lust for gardening, an unslakable thirst to get my hands in the dirt and plant things. I could not explain it. Nor could I prevent it from taking me over.

I live in an apartment with a screened in balcony porch. I bought big ceramic pots, plant stands, built shelves, hung trellis, carted bags of dirt upstairs. I planted seeds and seedlings, whole plants and vines. Plants hung, perched, clung and climbed over almost every inch of wall space. I put out a table and chairs and spent hours there, sipping tea, reading the paper, relaxing. I ate meals there, entertained guests under the leaves, dining on arugula and fig salads and wine.

I was (and still am) a woman swallowed up by the longing for a garden.

My garden smelled green and magical, fecund and full. And every winter I pine for it, yearning for the time I can plant it again. After a while, I began to think that this was more than just remembering my mother – somehow it was as if she had found me from afar in the deepest part of her longing for earth and growth.

I know every year that somehow, despite my ability to find any logic to explain it, she gardens with me. If I pause while reading my newspaper on some summer’s mornings I can almost see her out of the corner of my eye, wiping that vagrant hair from her forehead and smiling as she trims my petunias.

I remember laughing when she said that after she died she would find a way to reach back and let me know she was around me. I would laugh and tell her how stubborn she was.

Now, I think she had her way. And yes, I know how crazy that sounds. I think, though I cannot know why or how, that people can somehow intersect again.

Sometimes it is while hearing a familiar song. Sometimes it is a sudden sense that we are not alone. Or a scent, or a sound that calls us out into a place that is not here, yet profoundly here. It is a place, a moment, a quick shadow, a flash, a sense grazing the skin of memory. It is beyond language.

It is an experience that makes us feel foolish, like wishful thinkers on holiday.

And sometimes, as it is for me and Mom, it is just a quiet and familiar smile when our hands somehow reach together again into the warm spring soil.


Blogger Jayne said...

Oh how very beautiful Mata. Indeed, she is there with you, beside you, with her hands in your dirt, smiling all the way...

7:52 AM  

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