dying to be more

lessons from the garden

Tiny black flies bite the edges of my eyes, crawl up my sleeves, down my collar, between buttons on my shirt. My hands are busy in the dirt as I dig holes for daffodil and hyacinth bulbs and cannot brush them away. I plant the bulbs to surround a grey standing rock that marks my father-in-law's newly placed ashes.

Here, in the spring, fresh green sprouts of grass emerge along the cliff edge. They entice the deer to forsake winter shyness, to forage in clear view. Deep violet and golden crocus have returned with the new grass many times. Now larger blossoms will join them around the rock, which sits perched on a ridge at the cliff's edge. I raise my head from planting to see the lake below, and the grey-blue mountains across the valley, wrapped with woolly strands of cloud. I imagine the variations of this scene as it changes through the seasons. But I do not imagine seeing my father-in-law again. This finality is the hardest part to grasp. My thoughts turn instead to the flowers and I imagine that they will please him.

I place each bulb carefully, noting that the dirt that will cover them is pale and sandy, poor in nutrients. The bulb carries what it needs for the spring's bloom, so I make a promise to carry to them the compost, garden soil and organic nutrients that will give what they need in time to again store up food, to bloom in yet another spring. For now, it is enough to make a start. Not a perfect start. In earlier years, I might have determined that the work required to place and plant the bulbs properly was more than I could do in the time available. I would have left it undone. Now, I understand it is enough to make a start.

Years ago, all the soil here was like this pale and rocky earth. Yet today I look across to the garden and see terraces of rich black loam, nurtured and built through season after season of digging organic material into it. Just yesterday, I planted garlic in that loam and marveled at the plenitude of earthworms uncovered with each shovel I turned. They cultivate and enrich the soil. Every fall, the leftover harvest goes back into the ground, or into the compost which I later carry to the garden. The worms thrive and multiply on the nourishment from the decomposing matter and the vegetables just get better each year. Not only is nothing lost; there is a sense of net gain. "When have I ever become less by dying?" asked Rumi, the renowned Persian poet of the twelfth century. The garden becomes more and more. It's easy for me to grasp it here, and to understand the cycles

At times, I have been reluctant to cut down plants until they have "run their course." A few years ago, when the autumn temperatures stayed warm long beyond the usual, I kept harvesting tomatoes as they reddened on the vines. At last, realizing that few weekends remained for finishing the garden work, I breathed deeply and headed to the tomato patch to pick the last of the fruit and dig in what remained. These plants had produced all summer in prolific quantities. I felt as if I was betraying their efforts by cutting them down before they finished their cycle naturally. But when the process began, I felt relieved. The feeling penetrated my mind as clearly as the pungent scent of tomatoes penetrated my nostrils. It had never occurred to me that these plants might be tired and ready to have their work finished. Since then, I watch for signs that a plant is weakening, its leaves becoming pale or small, and take that as a signal that the plant is ready to nourish the worms at its roots.

Alanda Green has lived and gardened in Kootenay Bay for about 26 years. Her garden was created from the forest hillside over many years of building the soil, and her house is built of stone carried from the mountains. She has been a school teacher for 23 years, a yoga teacher for 8 years and has been writing through it all.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life