Monday, December 4

"Enjoying the Deep Vibrations"


As a child, you often are fooled into thinking that you love a certain time of the year for the symbols of it that are shown in greeting cards and seasonal decorations. And indeed I do admire the flaming red of the maple leaves and the fields of shifting wheat. Deep piles of raked leaves will probably tempt me to dive in until I am no longer young enough not to care that I'm really too old for such shenanigans.

What really rouses my spirit during this time of the year goes far deeper than permission to pull out my cracked-glass pumpkins, though. The lower slant of the sun's rays draws out the colorful spirit of dying plants for one last gasp. The acrid smoke of bonfires and the bitingly earthy aroma of decaying leaves contrast with the sweet crunch of a fresh Braeburn.

Celtic mythology holds that the veil between heaven and earth is the thinnest during the fall, specifically on Halloween. I don't know about that, but I know that my senses feel sharper. Poets can write all they want about how springtime makes the blood stir... but autumn is when both my body and my mind are more aware. More alive.

Henry Mitchell has never really been on my radar in terms of garden writing--and probably still would not be, except that the Garden Bloggers' Book Club chose him as their November selection. As I worked my way through The Essential Earthman, I had mixed reactions. Occasionally, I rolled my eyes. More often, I smiled in appreciation of comments like: "More gardens are rendered dull by timidity than are rendered vulgar by excessive daring. Be bold."

While going back through the book to figure out what exactly I wanted to talk about in my review, I kept stumbling over "Reflections on the Cycle of Life" within the chapter on autumn. It struck me for two reasons.

First, it explained so well a few things that I have long felt in my heart. Mitchell notes with a bit of disdain that, "There are people who want flowers magically appearing for the time of their bloom and then whisked away, to reappear next year only when they are at a climax."

I, on the other hand, am utterly fascinated by the entire life cycle of each and every plant that I grow. In fact, I have a tough time explaining to friends who are not gardening nuts why I take as many pictures of things like the fuzzy leaf-buds of the doublefile viburnum as I do of random flowers.

Not that there is anything wrong with flowers at all. Finding the first showy, fragrant bloom on a rose is exciting--and even more sweet when you've been watching the buds for days. Since flowers are a sexual display, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to consider the plant's buildup to flowering as foreplay--or at least some good old-fashioned teasing.

And frankly the fall decline of fall foliage wouldn't really be quite as fascinating if we did not know the summer flowers and the vibrant green foliage. Sometimes the declining foliage is spectacular for its own fragile beauty, sometimes it merely fascinates for the stark contrast between it and our memory of the plant in its prime.

Mitchell points out that, "In the garden there is always life, right through the year, and gardeners are merely those people who, while admiring the sex of plants as much as or more than anybody else, go on even beyond, and admire as well the bones and skin and guts and all the rest of it, and who admire more than anything the totality of it in all seasons."

And that leads me to the second reason I kept coming back to this particular essay. I have been gardening now for over six years, and have never really felt that I had yet earned the right to call myself a gardener. Sure, I could say that I enjoy gardening, or that I have a garden at my house... but proudly declaring that I am a gardener? I didn't feel worthy.

By Mitchell's definition, particularly in that essay but really throughout the book, I finally feel that I might qualify for the title. I tinker. I am fascinated by the minutiae. I have enough of an artistic ego to think that I can better Ma Nature--and enough of a sense of humor to smile and acquiesce when she proves again and again who is boss.

Most of all, I "enjoy the deep vibrations" of it all... of being A Gardener. And I appreciate both the introduction to Henry Mitchell and the connection that the internet is providing to other gardeners. And to myself.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

What wonderful thoughts on fall, gardeners, and the book. This was definitely worth the wait! I will be sure to post something with a link back.

I think you do qualify to be a Gardener! You are one of us now, no turning back.

(And thanks for the suggestion to cut my forsythia for indoor forcing to the point that I will have to totally remove it afterwards. I think that is exactly what I will do. Only a gardener would think of that.)

meresy_g said...

I love this post. The whole process is interesting, watching things progress through the season. And watching things you planted mature from year to year. Some of the trees and shrubs are like children...."I can remember when you were just this tall". And you definitelyqualify as a gardener my dear.

Annie in Austin said...

This is such a beautiful post, Kim - and you had me on the verge of tears. I've met so few people in my regular life who seem one bit interested in admiring the 'totality of it in all seasons', but through the miracle of blogs can read words from wonderful gardeners like you.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

[If there's any video of the eye-rolling, I'd love to see it.]

Colleen said...

Kim,
Now, it's just getting scary :-) Do you realize that we were both struck by the exact same part of Essential Earthman?? Earthman vs. the Seasons--Autumn was my favorite chapter. In fact, we wrote about not only the same chapter, but the same line. Though, you said it all much more eloquently than I did :-)

Hmmm. Maybe there's something to that long-lost sisters theory?? Or is it just more of "great minds thinking alike?" :-)

Either way, beautiful post.

john curtin said...

Is that swiss chard/bright lights leaf beat in the top photo?

Trey said...

Very well written post! Fall in my neck of the woods is actually a re-awakening time. It’s subtle but after the long dry summer our native plants begin to grow and flower again. The Toyon in berry, the Coyote bush in flower, and most of all the brown dry hills are turning green again. This is the beginning of the rainy season for us. Cold and rain are coming but the native plants have already started the long slow path to spring.

lisa said...

I'm with you...sure, peak bloom is nice, but what's more exciting than realizing that your favorite plants have survived in spring? I may envy folks in warmer climates for the stuff they get to do when we are enveloped in winter, but what more arousal can we boast than when our sleeping beauties awaken again in spring? And every sprouting leaf and stem are just as exciting as the flowers later...for their promise of things to come if nothing else!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Carol, thank you for the kind words and the link back. Let me know if the forsythia trick works, too. :)

meresy_g, I can't wait to be able to look at some grown-up shrubs! Having left my old garden just as it was starting to lose that sparse "new" look, and only being here for 2 years now, I have yet to experience being able to "remember when"...

Annie, I leave audio and video to the experts... *wink* Isn't it nice to be able to meet other like-minded people through blogs? It's like the old-fashioned letter correspondence, only faster. And with lots of pictures!

Colleen, I had to go dig to find your post--and then I shook my head in amazement! Maybe it's because we grew up so near to each other, are almost the same age, and so on? Weird, but in a very cool way!

John, it is not 'Bright Lights' but a variety of red-veined-only chard called 'Rhubarb' from Seeds of Change. I suspect that it's not much different from the old 'Ruby' chard, though. I loved this stuff, but am thinking about planting a white-veined one instead this year. Or maybe kale.

Lisa, very well said! I do think that vermicomposting and growing your own gourmet mushrooms must be almost as interesting as anything that warmer climate gardeners are doing right now, though. ;)

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Trey, I am about to go look up coyote bushes and toyon berries. :) I am very glad that you all are having a resurgence of sorts on the west coast--I'm looking forward to reading all about it on your blog!

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