I found myself alone in the garden, ‘working the plan’ as Mama would say, although we both know there is no plan, or perhaps just the bare bones of one: to keep it relatively tame and to eat.
I feel an ownership over this fall garden, more especially than in seasons past. I have been often away from home this year, with many good things drawing me elsewhere, so my ‘home days’ have been relished. I am glad all the barn animals have kept themselves alive in my absence. I work in the garden with gusto. I sit at my desk with a silly grin and could cry with joy in my happy place.
Despite the excitement and busyness of this schedule, I have also met solitude for the first time. My sister will be married two years come March, and it has taken me that long to accept- and then appreciate- being alone.
It is not uncommon for someone to holler (sorry for the colloquialism, but there is no better word for what we do), “Sarie! We’re goin’ in town (or to the sailboat, or to the cows). Be back in a couple hours!” And that couple hours slips into something more as the sun shifts across the sky.
Solitude is an opportunity. It’s like a clean garden bed.
Solitude is a calling. It’s like the crest of the bull I read about long ago: On one side of the beast stands a plow, on the other an altar, and underneath, the inscription: Ad utrumque paratus- Ready for either. I always loved that image, in a terrified kind of way.
So today I found myself alone in the fall garden, uniquely my own. The reason being that, for the first time, I grew the season’s plants out from seed and transplanted them successfully by myself. My sister was formerly the seed-girl. She is gentle and orderly and quiet, just the sort of person for the job. This year things are… different.
Postmodernism would call me ‘artsy’ but I’m afraid a more truthful generation would say ‘a mess’. I failed to label the seed beds sufficiently and cole-crops, as you may know, look remarkably similar when they are babes. (Thankfully I had the empty seed packets as evidence that I didn’t grow out 200 cabbage plants.) So I just transplanted them into their permanent beds in any which way.
“We’ll figure it out,” Mama so sweetly said. “I mean, there are only so many things it could be. Broccoli, Collards, Cabbage.”
“Red Cabbage, Swiss Chard, Kale, Russian Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Kohlrabi, Bok Choy or Purple Cauliflower.” I added.
“Oh.” She said, “Fun!”
I like her a lot.
And then, as the Summer holds on, with a final tomato and cucumber flush, successive plantings of green beans, and peppers, eggplant, zinnias and roses still going strong, I just squeezed the winter plants in wherever I could, resulting in a sort of novel hide-and-seek-mystery-gardening method in our Fall 2016 Mr. Bones Plan.
As I mentioned, solitude- that is, sane and happy solitude- did not come to me quickly and although I learned some things along the way, it has come at last as a given thing, and not my achievement.
When I see my ‘mostly companions’ leave the gate, I feel this pressure, not to maximize the time to myself or to chill (usually), but a Pressure of Presence. Never less alone than when alone. I wonder if this isn’t the monastic appeal? It’s not like I’m sitting in the garden meditating (I really wish I was better at that), it’s like, with all the work before me, I know He’s there more really than I do when surrounded by people. He fills the space left empty. And my choices- to fold laundry or paint at my desk- are less mine than they ever were. And something else I’ve noticed to my surprise, is that the decision- to scrub the floor or to study the book, to the plow or to the altar, you might say- is equally appropriate and pleasing to, well, to us.
There is a hummingbird that likes to visit (distract? dive-bomb?) me when alone in the garden. I often attempt to work with the chunky telephoto zoom lens on the camera slung around me to capture him in a still frame. It becomes disturbingly evident in moments like this that I am a ‘dabbler’, for I have yet to learn the art of the quick manual focus. Inevitably, when I put the camera down, he will come and sit demurely five inches from my face. John Buchan said fishing was “the art of something illusive, yet attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope” and this is true. Although I wonder if Mr. Buchan ever tried to get a picture of a taunting, exuberant hummingbird?
I am so thankful for the silence and solitude of the garden, showing me what God wants me to see. He says: You were made for this, right here and now. It was made for you.
I’ve had to learn, sometimes painfully, to be flexible to the Master Gardener’s plan (which is far more intelligent, coherent, successful and fruitful than mine, but still, I think, with it’s own unique, luxuriant, sprawling, less-than-tidy glory), and which He works zealously, at all times, in all things.
My garden plan (and the subsequent reality) is, at best, a demonstration of weakness touched by grace and all too often an illustration of Emily Dickinson’s maxim: When I try to organize, my little force explodes.
God’s plan is not so. If it seems random or repetitive, that’s because He likes it that way. As Chesterton said, “Perhaps God makes all daisies the same because he never tires of making them.” We may wonder why he left a bed of weeds, only to discover they were not weeds after all.
Here in Autumn, we all, like the engraved bull, have something palpable on either side of us: the Summer and the Winter. But we are all experiencing this seeming dichotomy in life, the unknown aspect to the day’s calling, in many other ways: Will it be solitude or companionship, sunshine or rain, peace or conflict, fullness or hunger, accomplishment or frustration, deep sleep or wakefulness, a plow or an altar?
This is life. A given thing.
Here in Autumn, with the greatest respect for the competent and steady bull, yet with more likeness to the inexperienced and flighty hummingbird, I long to say: Ad utrumque paratus! Ready for either!