Monday, May 16, 2011

5.11 Something New to Work With

Some of my plants didn’t make it back this year. Some bare spots appear in the planting beds. Since there are a lot of planting beds here, bare spots are nor surprising –I think of them as opportunities for improvement.
Oh, boy, I get to buy something new!
Three days – or its five – of a May northeaster, with the wind blowing clouds and occasional rain passages off the ocean, so improvements are on hold. I’m dying for some sunshine. The persistent wind is even worse. Hey, guys, we’re burning May. The wind makes the air feel colder than the temperatures. A high of sixty with no sun and the wind blowing in your face is just not the same as sixty in the sun, still air, and the birds singing.
We finally get our sunny day for the week. It’s Friday. I am busy finishing one story and writing another from notes taken the day before. It’s late in the day before I get outdoors, but I make time for a trip to a small, local plant store. Sunny days are good buying days; it puts you in the mood.
Saturday morning, another cloudy day, Anne and I hit the plant market in Quincy, a gypsy-like seasonal business that pops up under a tent roof on a parking lot squeezed between a supermarket and a car dealer at peak selling times such as spring planting, pumpkin harvest, and Christmas tree season. The annual seedlings all look great, vigorous and colorful, they haven’t outgrown their little ice-cube measures worth of dirt yet, and plants such as alyssum which often arrive scrawny and weak in early summer are well grown and in flower. It’s been a good year in plant production world.
So, after a pair of shopping expeditions, by Saturday afternoon we have some 20-odd little round plastic containers or six-packs of colorful new plant life to paint the beds with. I tell the garden it must be its birthday.
Working against the threat of a rainy week in the forecast I set to work under overcast skies to patch the new life into the places where it may help to elevate the current beds up to a higher expression of whatever it is we are working together to do. The prospect that almost nobody will notice the difference except me never intrudes on the trance of gardening.
Almost at once I have entered the zone in which what other people think – and what I ordinarily might be thinking about – no longer matters. This is what creative work is. Possibly this is what work really is, period, or should be. In the ideal world if you’re painting a barn, or digging an asparagus patch, or patching a road, or writing a poem – it doesn’t matter how hard, sweaty, inward or outward the process is, what matters is how much you care about and are thoroughly involved in what you’re doing. You care about the result. You care about doing it right, making it work, making it beautiful, or making it useful (or some of both), about helping someone, or improving the situation for all of us, or repairing the world. That’s what work is.
When you’re really there, doing it, that’s what the “trance” of gardening or any real occupation is – so-called because you’re not looking at the clock. You are occupied by the task. You’ve eliminated time – the objective, measureable march of the hours, minutes, and seconds. Or at least pushed it far into the background.
In the foreground is dirt, on your gloves, on your fingers, any part of your body or your clothing that you touch with your hands. And plants – including the weeds, which you will now scrupulously remove, after overlooking them for weeks, in order to clear the area where you are considering berthing a new plant. And your body, which you will have to maneuver into some far too small and uncomfortable space by kneeling, squatting, standing awkwardly between the plants and places you don’t want to be stepping on while you bend or stretch or otherwise get at the portion of earth where you think a particular example of biota will improve the state of the world – which in this instance means the look or balance or future prospects of a particular planting bed.
It’s a little thing, but our own.
Let us fill the bare ground. Before the weeds do. Let us connect one patch of green to another. Let us add color, intensifying the color that is already there, or adding some complementary hue. Let us paint with plants. Or add a line to the story.
Let us sing in the sunshine.
(If and when it finally comes back.)