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.