by Theresa Curtis-Diggs
There is a small house that sits on a plot of land in which I live. It is a chunk of earth and I think I own it. There is a patch of Garden in which nothing grows; in fact this Garden can be defined by the paradox of her absence of green, resistant and rebellious within an ocean of life.
She does not respond to my gardening demands; it seems she has another agenda. This is certainly curious. So, plopping down on her soft skin I begin to wonder and while sitting there in reverie I ponder her and her Earth language. Can we translate the song with which she calls us …is this possible or am I nuts? I request a conversation with her about her stubborn barrenness, and somehow believe she has something she wants to say. In which tongue-less language might she dialogue? I realize that we cannot endlessly identify her with measurements and reductionism any longer if she is to agree to befriend us. I wish us to settle into accepting more primitive and receptive ways of recognizing life and thereby come to honor all Otherness more intimately. Who is she, this gardenless garden; what does she need or want? I will lie here on her gentle belly, and listen. Listen.
But this is not easy. I try to block out the monotony of how I (a lost woman in a dying culture) usually see and hear. I am putting forth a lonely effort to more abundantly see and hear her, in the moment, with a different set of senses. Is Place delicately beginning to animate, to rhythm and rustle with her own pulse? I begin to worry that I am flinging ideas onto her face, then claiming her as author in a silly projection. But I sense that truly it is Garden that has called, beckoning whispers have pulled me away from my chores to journal her undertakings. She is beginning to murmur and her voice seems to erupt with a primordial noise dancing in a resonant field. But so slowly! Just one low sigh in so many days! How will we ever develop ecological patience if Mama is speaking to clogged eardrums, here in 2007? I have been trained to stuff myself with shopping and ice cream, not to lounge unproductively, relating to tree spirits … can I trust this new life? And worse, is this psychosis?
And, damn this unyielding patch anyway! Why will she only produce weeds in the non-garden area and leave my tilled spaces blank? It’s embarrassing when people notice that there is one brown patch of earth with nothing growing on it called The Garden. I don’t understand why seeds lie dormant within her, why does she refuse me so? I read a little poetry for comfort and to help me trust that one can learn to perceive her on a more primal level. I sink into reverie, hushed, receiving, then lightly a quail lands, and two, chattering and eating.
Plenty of grub; they call their many friends. They scratch the ground like chickens and sniff for kernels, disregarding the decoy feed I have left in a far corner away from these seedlings. Quail likes this spot. They dig in the soft soil and set in the little bug bowls they have dug. One bundles into a cup now, she fits her fanny and feathers on what was once a mound meant for squash…it looks like she’s ready to lay. The others return to their meal and I am not the only one trying to eat out of this garden, not the only one dropping in embryos to grow in her warm softness.
And I know Garden is soft. We had stripped her of her brush in February and rented the largest double-bladed rototiller we could find. We went over and over that patch until it was fine and refined. We burned her scrub in one huge fire. We said, “Over here we will allow the blackberries to grow,” we said “and here we will keep a little brush cover for the critters” …feeling smug by this decision based, really, on the toughness of Irish Broom that is too hard to remove. We budged rocks out and shaped little hills in one long spiral; a special spiral garden. In April we scratched seed into her womb. In May it was scratched out. We now have fat Quail. Deer, maybe Rabbit feast on the older plants, but only in the garden area. An old Navaho had once written that wisdom sits in places, and it seemed like Mother was teaching an ancient lesson. And it wasn’t dressing in scientific superwords.
So it is embarrassing and ironic that I have looked so far afield for the culprits responsible for the maim and disgrace of her nature…I, with my degree in horticulture, outwitted by a piece of dirt. She tells me, “look to the end of your own fingers for the answer to My defilement.” But I was putting in a garden! That is natural! Good people put in gardens, I whine. “Oh? She whispers, so, where are my trees?” I start to ponder on the times that are now gone by.
Trees indeed! Where have all the towering pines gone? I am living in the middle of a (once) riparian forest on the east side of the North Fork of the Feather River. The closest city is called Paradise. And this particular patch was cleared, flattened down and heavily graveled for to (you guessed it) pave Paradise and put up a parking lot. This explains why I have so much sun on my property and no pines. I wonder about her trees, her adornment, her herstory, and feel called to visit her past. One hundred and some years ago she was purchased by the Chico Women’s Temperance Society to provide place for the temperance movement and the Community Church. This is hilariously ironic to me as a recovering alcoholic. The area was (and is still sometimes) called Dogtown, because the lonely miners had lots of dogs. This particular Place is a half-mile west of where the world’s largest gold nugget was found during the 1849 gold rush, making her, at the time, a most popular spot indeed.
Later, when timber was gold she was once again heralded to bring forth wealth. When her trees were nearly consumed, she made room for ranches and plenty of sheep. Thick swirls of towering pines have grown back, but not in the graveled lot of this Garden. It is as if she is being hidden under the parking pavement; that her natural herstory was crushed and covered-up in thick-inches of scab. Then when the church was relocated again, years ago, she began bushing out in some small patches that had lay beneath the congregation for so many years, her leaves falling and again enriching the dense clay upon which she was originally skinned.
But yet, this is such a blink in the history of time, my time, our time; her time is in millions of years, birthed with the shift of the ocean plates. They reared up and spit out the virgin mother, Sierra Nevada, who had sat untouched in the subterranean depths of the Pacific Ocean. Now she is home to Hawk, Bear and Grandfather Manzanita. And little by little I remember that …I love her.
I did not mean to hurt her when I stripped and burned the hair which covered her skin. I did not mean to displace her critters. Yet she continues to forgive and beckons me to reverie as I listen to her veiled sounds: strange, non-matching harmonies with off-beat trills and chik-chiks. It hurts to hear because I long for her so deeply, it hurts to hear because I need more of her voice, it is like milk and I need more.
I have seen and heard our Mother with closed ears these many years, it is so hard to erase the ideas that have formed and stamped into my brain about who she is, and allow her to just be. Unless I pause enough to witness with the eyes of a child will I be able to distinguish among the preconceptions and misconceptions to soak in her true rumors and gossips, once wrapped in lofty legends and lessons. What is it that is showing itself, right now, in this particular within infinity?
There are so many mad man sounds roaring through any given moment that my ears are confused about where to go. They are trained to sift through the rumble of cars and machines to discern noises, purposes, and safety. They hear the chug of trucks before they remember to hear the chirping of birds. These eyes in my head routinely and firstly see ‘my this’ and ‘my that’: my car, my woodshed, my recycling bin. They have difficulty discerning beyond this and it is a cruel cultural joke that I have to jostle my perceptions thoroughly until I am finally able to witness a hint beneath them -the blades of grass struggling softly around these ‘things’ and the wind, who is touching them. And the wind touches me, blows in my hair, tells me that I am okay. Now it floats a sniff of mint into the air, then iris and earth. I forget that I am old, I forget that my breasts sag. A little yellow finch lands on the twirly-gig I have spinning in Garden to keep the birds away. A dove joins the fest. I remember that I am one being among many, that I belong to this system of roots and rain, and that I am okay. I am not the master, she is not the master; we are both sisters in this moment and we can embrace. A nail gun explodes in the shed, startles my reverie and Dove alights. It is curious that she is the only skittish one, this instrument of peace. She responds sensitively and abandons us when things get aggressive; just when we need her most. How can we make a space for peace in our gardens? Can peace make space for us? What is it that is growing in our garden?
This is what we say, my partner and I: “Nothing grows in our garden.” Tomatoes, squash, and spinach …all dead. We are such losers! There is a narrow and spiral patch of brown, with little mounds, and it circles through this plot. What I had been unable to notice is, unable to comprehend, is that it rests within and amongst a sea of living, green and thriving weeds at its boundaries. And it laughs and chatters and asks, is your glass half empty, or half full? Garden is thrilling, and spilling with a thriving life that lay hidden from my grown-up eyes. How could I have been blind to that which I look at everyday? On this splace, on this square that I had mapped out for to revere and contemplation, within its borders are feral and fruiting cherry trees, an almond, two walnuts, wild strawberry, blackberry, and a spectacular wild sweet pea that we call “weeds!” Wild! Manzanita, thistle, grasses and sweet yellow broom. We try to fathom the many dove, quail, rabbit, finch, deer and undomesticated cats that assume this garden to be…not exactly home, but at least a picnic table, and…well, successful. Green abounds and what is inside of me is beating slower, and the world is a different place. Garden has finally and truly worked through her graveling wound and calls out to an abundance of life to gather forth. And now in my day, it is getting late; things seem to be settling all around.
But Quail lingers, curiously relational; they seem to tiptoe through the café in mated pairs to survey each savory seed. I had suspected that this is what happened to Garden’s bounty, but hadn’t been sure. I had tried to blame it on wrong fertilizer, soil conditions, or watering patterns, all those silly human meddlings that seemed so unimportant now. Last week I had been contemplating how best to blast off some witty Plan #2 with a new and improved reseedling project, and stave off my shame of garden failure. I had intended to spend this important pondering time for analyzing the who, what, when, where, and why of this patch of unproductivity. I thought I was going to cleverly manage to fix, interfere, and repair this land of “nothing growing…”.
Life does blossom with these new eyes, but it is time to move beyond this lovely dream world and pull it forth into Real Life; I must leave to go about the business of the day. I want to bring the harmonies with me, they are pulsing inside my chambers and I hope that they will never leave. I think I own them, I want to possess them. But as time cycles on in the afternoon heat I drive off to wait at red lights, watch old houses being re-placed by pre-fabs, receive annoying phone calls and…feel sad. Tranquility is its own master. There are no tricks to taming it. Tranquility does not result from controlling some proper input of positive affirmations or punching pillows to release rage and bring us back to an emotive balance. Rather, beauty heals. This is what I need today, straight shots of Garden pouring in and spreading warmth. Wisdom sits in places. Places sit in wisdom.
It has been a long day, and I am not sure how it was that Garden called out, or how this reverie will all come together. It is like nature, a perpetual work in process. What is this secret tongue of Earth? I can burrow through and uproot things, but it only reveals what it does and when it does. I consider that Garden might trust me; I imagine it has revealed much and I can be forever learning.
More than a week has gone by since I first sat in curious reverie of Garden’s blissful, excruciating, and exquisite nature. I have grown less sure of my aptitude to translate her wisdom than I am of her continuing capacity to communicate, but I have found that this thinking sells her short. She communicates in nudges and inspirations, and has been strong enough to interpenetrate and affect human consciousness for millennia. She speaks a language we can understand. Just as psyche, goddess, and image clothe themselves in matter, so too does matter clothe herself in psyche, goddess, and image.
That is to say, she has spoken in a way that has penetrated my human stratum and I have been able to respond. It was after I first accepted our brown patch called Garden as she is that I was able to redefine beauty, worth, and purpose. She was herself. She was also an element of me as I was an element of her, and we were both members of a greater family, singing and swaying together. She was not tightly withholding her virtues, as I had initially suspected. Rather, I was suffocating her with my agenda.
I have become content to know her, to feel her presence. There is no way to control her primal language but we can adapt our sensitivities to breathe in her whispers and storms. She will take the time to convert any listener that this is so.
Now she nudges me to a garden center and directs me to some plants. She refuses my purchasing fingers access to finite brain figurations of what plants should or should not go in her belly and because we know that it was, unfortunately, my very best gardening thinking that eventually encouraged the soil to become Brown Patch, I listen to her. For a while I ramble around the store with nothing calling to me, until I push my empty shopping basket by a little sign that says, “Herbs.” Then the sprouts want to jump and tumble into my cart. When I bring them home and set them on her soil she advises me where to root in these new babies. As we work together I begin to forget that we are a team and logic struggles to invade my movements, screaming out directives, crying to overplay Garden’s voice. Gratefully and in time, I am provided just enough awareness to remember to re-align my thinker with her rhythms, and get back on track. I am able to bed these babies down, these foster plants grown in mass nurseries to be tended by each of us who choose them homeward. I snuggle them in for this first night, wondering if they will survive to morning light.
It has been two days and two nights now. Some Eater has snuck through to feast on the lower leaves of our fruit trees, one which rests on the edge of Garden. I am thankful they have found some greens to nibble on, and feel a truce descending. They have touched nothing in the garden beds, nothing, not a nibble.
Another three days have passed and I have just returned from an extraordinary moment, a blessed five minutes that wants to be added into this story: I took a moment to honor Garden by remembering her, and earlier I sat among her reading. Around the Irish Broom and onto her delightful soil steps the dainty hoof of Buck Deer, marching over in broad daylight to feast on the lush greenery that surrounds Garden. He has the familiar nonchalance of a family pet, and is close enough to breathe in. Buck appears especially vigorous as he munches ceanothus and wild strawberry blossoms (he oddly misses the nearby cultivated strawberries). Although he prances through the beds he does not touch any of the garden delights. I watch him carefully choose and chew his dinner, never once tearing into the plants that have been directed into Garden and Placed upon her clay skin, covering her private underworld.
What a respectful way he has chosen to consume that which is necessary for him to consume! Magically and synchronistically, this is the first time Deer has partaken of feasting in my presence. I don’t know why I have such trouble really grasping this blossoming of events that is being provided by Place, other than a blindness born of culture. Garden seems content. Quail, dove and finch are swollen with delight; deer is delicately feeding her sensitive pallet on non-pungent herbs and spices. Soil is smiling. And me, my life is changed, forever.
© Theresa Curtis-Diggs
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