Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gardening Eternity

I have always known that gardeners, as a general lot, comprise some of the most optimistic and even-natured humans on the planet.  The very nature of planting and growing something in defiance of the vagaries of wind and weather systematically weeds out the pessimists and those individuals who combine angry outbursts with a weak cardiovascular system.  Planting tomatoes well past the expected last frost date and having them wiped out in a freak spring freeze is brutally Darwinistic.  So is watching an ice storm take down the paper-bark maple you coveted for a decade before planting and have been nursing along for the past five years.

Recently however, I was simultaneously humbled, and almost driven to tears, by the words of a friend's father, a life-long gardener, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he has mere months left to live, with many of those precious weeks likely spent in decline.  According to my friend, her father has taken the news with a calm acceptance that has eased the minds of his family, saying only that "he is looking forward to planting his garden this spring as always, even though he knows he'll never see the harvest."

Dear God, what depths of faith are relayed by that simple sentence. Just as all religions state the concept in one way or another, Christian scripture cautions that  "we know not what shall be on the morrow" (James 4:14). Few of us garden or live, however, as if the end WERE going to be tomorrow.  It is one thing for me to know logically that, at 51 years of age, I will likely not live to see the second semicentury of the scarlet oak I planted a few years back. It is another thing entirely to recognize and accept that I might not live to see ripe tomatoes from the seeds I am preparing to start indoors in a few weeks.  I do not know my friend's gardening father, but I have known two of his children personally and professionally and if his garden matches his family, I am sure I would be awed by the vigor and beauty of his plants. He leaves behind a legacy that will not just be this Spring's peas and this Fall's potatoes.  His legacy is bequeathing the wisdom, to all those he touches, that living well is about doing every day exactly those same things we would choose knowingly to do in our last months.

I know not what life's end will bring.  I cannot know for certain if there is an Eden above for gardeners to spend eternity dabbling in the soil, or whether I will return in the next life as a squash bug, or whether my soul and chemicals will simply merge with Mother Gaia.  Like many in this Age, I feel sometimes that I lack the faith that I was raised on and should have, for I have seen far too many bad things happen to keep an unquestioning faith blindly intact. But I do know, looking out my window now at the snow and ice blanketing the ground in mid-Winter, that I can follow one brave gardener's path and plant again this Spring, even though I may not ever see the harvest.    


  1. Beautiful post, even if the inspiration for it is so tragically sad. I couldn't agree more with you, especially about gardeners being inherently optimistic. Honestly, in so many things I feel like a pessimist, perhaps even at times a contrarian, but at my core, I know I must be an optimist, because I garden...and like you said, it practically flies in the face of fact at times. Thanks so much for the lovely post, it really helps put things in perspective.

  2. Beautifully written. Faith, for me, has been a hard thing to hold onto. I tend to live like there's no tomorrow, though, and that drives people crazy. I suppose, because I've lost family members so early in life I'm aware of how days can be numbered. Now you've got me thinking... Thx for a good read on a cold winter's day.

  3. I agree with Kate, it was a well written post. I like to look at scripture in times like these. Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. My view through much prayer and study is we will have eternal life and an occupation when we get there. I hope to be a gardener. Adam and Eve were the first gardeners, but since they got kicked out of the garden they are know called farmers.

  4. Professor, you wrote beautifully about a man you don't know who gardens. You've seen all those bad things, but here is a good thing that is speaking to your heart. Listen, I'm sure you'll hear God's voice in it. Sometimes the good is so pure and so sublime that it proves what reason can not. Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It seems to me that gardeners really are a faith-filled lot. Thanks for your thoughts tonight.

  5. Thank you for a beautiful post and putting things in perspective. Every time I look at an old rose I think about all the people who have admired it before me, and will enjoy it long after I am gone. It does not make me sad, but brings me peace.

  6. I have often thought of some of my OGR's as historical, but I hadn't really thought about who had viewed or smelled the rose before. If only they could talk....

  7. Nicely written post, about a topic we gardeners inherently face (or refuse to face) somewhere down the line. Every year when I walk through my garden, I am reminded of gardening friends and mentors who are no longer above ground, but whose plant gifts remain in my garden, and in my heart. From the classic geraniums in pots cadged from my mother's collection as cuttings, to the chickens now rootling around my backyard, my garden is filled with gifts both material and spiritual, from gardeners of my past. I don't know what my 'legacy' will be, but I hope I might leave a love of the garden as a beautiful and healing space in the minds of visitors and friends.


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