Anticipation

Somewhere in my body, memory and the future meet. Especially in Spring.

An embryonic elephant’s ear, wizened and bloody green, surfaces from March soil, and I taste June’s rhubarb; smell it baking with cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins under a dome of pastry.

I’m shoveling composted cow manure to make new veggie beds. It’s just days past the Equinox, and my sixth straight of willful labor. So when the temperature pushes 80 degrees, and I start sweating, my numbed brain worries forward. I stagger through a July heat wave; stumbling for a nap on the sofa, a cold pack over my eyes.

I notice tight fisted buds tipping the branches of Korean Spice Viburnum, and I’m ready to drift to sleep on a warm May evening, perfume ghosting through an open window.

Apricot tree blows kisses down the alley inviting an all-girl chorus to hum through its branches. Since this tree only manages to fruit about one year in seven, it’s no wonder the blossoms open a perennial angst. I feel myself turning up my collar against a driving April sleet.

Instead of our normal wrestling match between winter and summer, we seem to be having a spring. We revel in it, and no one quite trusts it. Most years, the eager question in late March is, “Do you think we’ll have an early Spring?” This year, we’re asking each other, “Do you think it will snow in April?”

It’s anyone’s guess.

What’s to be done?

We observe; look for patterns; apply our wits. We plant Chionodoxa with early Itzim narcissus, and feel delight when they bloom together, disappointment when they don’t.

This odd spring, along with all the borrowed trouble and presaged pleasures, I have a different anticipation. Somewhere in my body, a memory lifts my arms as if there were strings on my elbows. I step into weather, plants, and soil as if joining a dance partner, and allow that partner to lead.

At the Beginning

Easing my body back into the shape of a gardener, I spent three two-hour shifts cleaning up. It was just the right amount of time to feel my muscles adjusting without hearing them complain.

Winter takes the garden down slowly, and never quite all the way. The gardener’s job is to finish what Winter set to, and yet, it doesn’t feel like finishing. It feels like beginning, the start of the gardening season, la Prima Vera, the first green, Spring.

As I crouch and snap the twiggy stalks or slice them down with pruning shears, I’m thinking of Elizabeth Erickson who was a teacher of mine when I was a much younger woman. Elizabeth is still on the faculty of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I’d wager she still teaches far more than art. I turned to her as a spiritual teacher, someone who might help me unravel my tangles of passion and mystery. Bless her, Elizabeth simply invited me to go further into them.

On this first week back on my knees, I’m remembering particularly something Elizabeth said, not just to me, but to all her students, “You must always be willing to be at the beginning.”

I am bent for the umpteenth time to laborious tasks that could just as well put me in a state if Sysiphean futility.  Yet, here I am feeling a newly born wonder. Though the work is repeated and the setting familiar, the garden is never the same, nor am I the same in the garden.

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “Though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” For him there was always more to learn, more to try, more to invent, especially in the garden. I’m with you, Citizen. Loving a garden renders us teachable.

I break up handfuls of descicated stems and stuff them in a sack to haul off for recycling. Only months ago these stalks were alive with leaves and flowers. They grew because that was their nature. They died because that’s what everything does. Now, I’m helping them become compost. If I sit on a meditation pillow, and pay attention to my breathing, I notice, at the end of each breath, there is a pause. It’s a very slight pause followed by an impulse to inhale. Crushing up stems for compost, my whole self feels the same impulse. It is to life.

Disturbing overwintered tufts, lady bugs meander up for some sun. Do they know they were asleep? Have they moved to the head of some insect line? Is it their turn?

When I was little kid, I could never push to the head of a line and always felt nervous and excited once I got there. I was too shy. I didn’t deserve to go first. I’m more comfortable going first, now, though I still won’t push. And as my elders (there are still a few) move on to the next world, I inevitably move forward in line. I find I’m willing to be at the head of this line, though not eager. I’m still so interested in the paradisical unions found by waking up in this world.

Moving on with my shears to the next clump, I glance up. Sunlight fires through the crocus. I laugh.

Leap Day

It’s a whole extra day, an odd and lovely gift of time, Leap Day. So, I decide to make it a holiday, a private midweek Sunday.

Because it’s warm and sunny and only just breezy, it would have been a good day to start the 2012 professional gardening season. Only when I woke up, I thought, “What’s the rush? It’s still February.” So I suspended the plan.

It took almost the whole morning for all my systems to get on board with the decision. You know how it is: Your conscience follows you around, looking at the door every time you pass it, as if to ask you when we’re leaving.

I put on jeans and a hoody and went outside to clear some tools from the back of my truck. Took care of some junk that had accumulated behind the seat, too. Contact with truck and tools spelled w-o-r-k to my conscience, and her tension eased.

I picked up the side yard, scene of a wind tunnel during the last blow. I rinsed out an old day pack, resurrecting it for summer use. I found a billed cap behind the seat of the truck inscribed “Plays in the Dirt”. It got a quick scrub, and both cap and knapsack went out to the clothes line to dry. “Oh,” said my conscience, “we’re getting ready to start the season. What a good idea.”

After lunch (a virtuous salad), still in my jeans and hoody, I hopped in the driver’s side of the truck, tapped the accelerator twice, turned the key, and she started right up. My conscience loves to go for rides and took the shotgun position, her nose pressed to the window.

We went to Tony’s Saw Shop over on Prospect Street. When I came out carrying my newly sharpened loppers, pruners, and shears, you’d think I was carrying a bag of bones, the way my conscience acted. On the drive back home, she circled three times, curled up on the seat, and I didn’t hear from her the rest of the afternoon.

I spent two hours shearing down the stalks out on the parking median. I’m glad I left them up. Glad I let winter have it’s way. But they are becoming featureless, now, and it’s time they were recycled.

I slice through a stand of hyssop, and the summery smell of rootbeer is still there. Kids on after school bike rides, roll around the corner saying hi. A boy in his early teens, walking up the sidewalk, smiles and asks “How’s it going?” Dale, from a few houses up the street, walks over to ask me about which trash service I use. He has nice white hair and a mustache, always waves, always says, “Hello, Cheryl.”

Just moments after I take myself inside, happy conscience in tow, three brightly clad girls walk through the open gate and up to the porch. Triangular headscarves, printed with fuchsia, lime, aqua, orange and purple bubbles, hold back their hair. “Want to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?” they chime.

I laugh, “Could you say that in any more unison?” They look puzzled. “Sure!” I add.

It feels as though I’ve been away from the gardenhood for a very long time. What a homecoming. I think I won’t wait four years to declare another holiday.