Every morning I greet my garden with joy. It’s a delight to know my beds and borders are out there, awaiting me. We kind of rely on each other. Gardening is, after all, a faith-based initiative. Without faith in the future, or at least hope, how can I battle drought, rain, early frosts (or late ones), bugs, critters, and the whole array of obstacles that stand between the present moment and the eventual garden of my dreams? As a gardener, I’m thinking long term. I plant little whips of trees, even grow some from seed. I nurture fledgling shrubs 6-inches tall, and plant perennials that won’t mature for quite a while. In the fullness of time, they’ll match the vision in my mind’s eye. It’s a slow process. Sometimes, actually more often than I’d care to really consider, it takes years to develop a new area, or to bring harmony to even a fraction of my overall design. Even my abundant garden purchases are based on that same gradual, evolutionary scale: a few dollars here and a few there, but it all adds up. That elongating time line doesn’t bother me; I rarely even consider it. I simply assume tomorrow will bring a new day, and a new step forward. But what if it doesn’t?
What got me thinking was “Gods of Good Fortune, Smite Me Not” an awesome post by the endlessly entertaining, opera-singer-turned-garden-designer Louis Raymond at his superlative blog “Dirt on the Keys.” In it, Louis talks about building the garden of a lifetime, a task in which, I believe, we all are engaged. I know I am. It takes decades of sweat and toil, as well as-most significantly nowadays–finances. What do we risk by throwing so many resources-time, effort and funds–into a hole in the ground? What if, he wonders, the current financial meltdown is not just a momentary blip (historically speaking), but the lead rider for the horsemen of the apocalypse, with the others about to thunder into view? Maybe we’re poised at the brink of the abyss. What if, he writes, this economic kick in the pants is more like a gunshot to the kneecap, a permanently crippling injury, a game-changer?
Louis and I share the hope that the globe’s current difficulties are but the birth pangs of a new order, the portal to a society more moral, more ecological, more just. But what if they’re not? As Louis writes: “Gods help us, but we’re in a Rumsfeld Reality here. The known unknowns to the left and the right aren’t so bad; it’s the unknown unknowns up ahead that could really kibosh everything.”
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s deja-vu all over again.” I had a lot of those same thoughts some years ago, on 9/11/01. That very day, as the dust cloud remains of the twin towers drifted over lower Manhattan, casting dark shadows across so many psyches, that very day, as it turned out, someone was coming to take pictures of my garden for a magazine cover. I wandered shell-shocked through my beds and borders, thinking to myself: A garden, how trite. How monumentally unimportant, how pathetically insignificant it seemed. Weren’t there more meaningful things to worry about?
But as I continued my little walk, I had an epiphany. Gardening, in fact, was precisely what I should be thinking about. It was the antidote to all this horror. Let’s leave aside the basic notion that gardening is therapeutic, it reconnects me with nature and the earth’s cycles, the labor is meditative, blah, blah, blah. Gardening is more than that, it is an act of creation, made all the more wondrous when contrasted with chaos and destruction. It is yin to the yang. It is an act of defiance, of life-affirming faith. A garden says, “YES!”
Let the winds of fortune blow (which they will do, no matter what). I’m standing my ground and shaking my trowel-holding fist at fate. Sure, I may go down in flames. Maybe we’ll lose the house, or our plummeting net worth will force me to cut down the magnolias to make room for rutabagas. But, hey, I might be hit by bus tomorrow, or fall down on the bunny slope, like Natasha Richardson, and never wake up. One thing we’ll never know is our fate. All we really have is today. And today, all we can do is carry on, even in the face of unknown unknowns. As my wife, at her Buddhist best, sometimes reminds me, we must learn to rest in uncertainty.
So, breathe deep. Welcome to this day. The sun is shining. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sapling to plant. I’m trying to make a garden.