Friday, March 23, 2012

Green Blade Rising

What other year have the first days of spring felt so like, well, the first days of spring? None that I’ve spent in Toronto, certainly, through most of my adult life. Neither of my winters in San Diego, where the modulation of seasons was so subtle, to a native of the Midwest, that it took me most of my time there even to register that they shifted at all. Perhaps, occasionally during my Indiana youth, the last ten days of March felt palpably and dramatically like the beginning of something new.

But yesterday after lunch, the short break I meant to take from desk work inside, cutting back last season’s dead growth in a border along the side of the house, was a path out of my small, goal-oriented self and into the bigger, wider-open self that’s out there waiting for me to show up and step into it.

Every handful of sere brown ribbon pulled away from green blades of Siberian iris now just breaking the soil carried me further from the wintry work that still waited inside. Every glint of sun off the leaves of the laurels ringing the front garden pulled me into the next task of pruning them back from late summer’s growth spurt—just one or two bushes, I said to myself; just one or two more; until all thirteen were finished and I’d yet to return to what had seemed so pressing—and so bloodless— two hours before.

Even spraying the vegetation outside the fence with reconstituted coyote piss to discourage the deer brought me joy.

And I found myself—750 miles from where I began my life, and over a decade after my mother’s death—welling up with gratitude to her that she gave me this: the capacity to lose myself in the endless task of caring for things rooted in earth. Gardening was her one grand pleasure in a life that had far too much of duty in it, and far too little of pride.

It’s taken decades to feel that gratitude so richly and so without complication. She and I had a vexed, unhelpfully impacted relationship, full of emotions too tangled and too co-dependent to parse apart without years of pain and mutual frustration. The relief of being able to let go into such gratitude, at long last, is one of the blessings of mid-life, a compensation for the aching joints that remind me this morning of how I spent yesterday.

Another gift, so bound up with the first that it’s really another aspect of the same, is to know that my garden is not her garden. I’m not trying to recapture the lost Eden of a nostalgically misremembered origin. I’m glad to have come so far—into the freedom outside the closet that was the price of life in the bosom of my family; into my power as a man who’s found his own way into connection with the Source of his larger self.

Laying aside my rake as I passed the backyard altar that’s waited untended since my summer practice there ended at the fall equinox, I knelt before it for the first time in a new season. The tiny soapstone Buddha needed straightening, balanced precariously on a loosened bit of mortar between bricks. A few leaves needed brushing away from the stones a friend placed last fall in a ring around the Shiva lingam at its center. I said a short prayer for a friend struggling with advanced cancer; for another whose chronic pain continues to shrink the circuit of his life. And rejoiced that what my mother gave me set me on a path that I’ve claimed as my own.

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