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.

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