Letting Things Be

It’s getting close to cut-back time in the gardenhood. Close, but not quite. I need to rest in winter’s processes a while longer.

Most of the neighbors swept their leaves into plastic sacks months ago. Their yards are as tidy as winter allows. The only rake I touched pulled the leaves from a patch of lawn under the front yard crab on to the shade bed. Otherwise, I’ve left every stalk to blanch and let winds gather last summer’s canopy around dry stems and slumbering rosettes.

Frankly, it’s a mess.

The garden hasn’t developed winter interest. It’s sparsely planted and immature, lacking the textural carpets, architectural elements, and focal points that carry garden aesthetics through a brown Colorado winter. Even so, I couldn’t bare the thought of taking anything down.

There’s a very practical benefit: Everywhere the leaves have stayed, the soil remains moist and frozen. This, despite no snow for a month. I checked just yesterday, when the temperature flirted with 60 degrees, and the sun came and went behind April-dressed clouds. It comforts me to know that below the unkempt surface all is as it should be. Life continues.

I’ve needed to be with the garden as it is, to hang fussy habits in a crowded closet and rest. I find it quieting to watch the red cabbage, which never flourished in depleted soil, as it discolors and droops. The once proud iris leaves prostrate themselves and pale. Seed heads topple and spill. Stems crack and bend at strange angles.

Observing all this without interrupting it for pretty’s sake has been a tonic for grief-frayed nerves. Following last year’s departure and falling away, I’ve had some healing to do. Many friends have experienced great loss, rough transitions, and trauma as well. I seem to feel each one with them, more acutely than before. The garden, in its dormancy, soothes me by its example: Nothing is defeated, only submitting, changing, returning to earth.

Twenty years ago, on a Pacific beach in Nicaragua, I found shell after shell worn to pink and cream translucence. Held up to the sun, warmth and light shown through them, making them feel alive in a way, surely transformed from the husks of protection they had once been. I was inspired. I wanted to become translucent, too. Then, I was struck with terror, understanding the enormous forces involved.

Some while ago, a previous gardener tossed handfuls of small shells into the long parking median turned street garden on this flat corner lot. Now and then one surfaces, dirty, in tact. Taken away from pounding surf and constant tides, hidden in the soft darkness of the soil, they won’t ever polish thin enough for sunlight to shine through. I like to imagine how they got there, but I don’t envy their fate.

So, this winter, I’m witnessing the forces of nature in the garden and the forces of life in myself. Despite the tumble-down appearance of both, all is well. Below the surface, we are waiting for spring and very much alive.

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