Monday, July 23, 2007

Marking Time in the Garden

I imagine that almost every gardener knows the feeling. All of a sudden, there is too much vegetative clutter in the garden. It wasn't noticeable yesterday but today there is an overabundance of spent blooms, drying stalks, and newly visible weeds peeking out from under soon-to-be-blooming plants. I am repeatedly amused that some weeds seem have an innate skill for choosing the plants with whom they attempt to co-exist. It is as though they recognize their own form and lurk amongst the garden plants most resembling themselves. Thinking about weeds plotting and scheming brings a bit of humor to my eradication efforts. Perhaps I could write a book, Spies in the Under(story)world, or something to that effect.

I am always surprised at just how much biomass I pull out of the garden at this time of year. I'll make several wheelbarrow trips to the composter and after a while it will be filled to capacity, leaving no room for the excess. It recently occurred to me just why I seem to unconsciously put off tackling this tidying up project each summer. I do not like to face the reality of time passing. Like a child who puts hands over eyes and assumes she is invisible, I want to pretend that spring has not come and gone once again. Cutting down the stalks of sundrops and columbine means admitting they will not be back this year. Spring can seem so fleeting, like life itself. Will I still be here to see these end-of-winter, welcome flowers again next year?

Someone I know once said that we are surprised by the passing of time because we were made for eternity. I agree. And yet, though we live finite lives, we can choose to make the most of the time we are given. After I face the fact that the garden needs a good grooming and do the work required, it seems to sparkle with new life and promise. Removing that which has served its purpose and celebrating that which is yet to come brings an enhanced beauty and an eager anticipation for the next season of blooms. It is a lesson well worth remembering as I live out my days, even in settings other than the garden.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Unseen

It was the small white clouds of insects hovering over the meadow that prompted my musings about the seen and the unseen world. I did not have much on my mind as I walked and at the time was primarily paying attention to the antics of anxious avian parents bent on protecting their young from various actual and imagined threats. Along that short stretch of road there are a number of nesting families of yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, grey catbirds, Eastern kingbirds, brown thrashers, northern mockingbirds, robins, orchard orioles, willow flycatchers, song sparrows, and some I am forgetting at the moment. With all those families sharing the same quarter mile there are bound to be squabbles and territorial defenses from time to time and it makes for interesting observation. Sometimes it is nice not to think but only to watch. Today however, because of those insect clouds, my attention was drawn away from the obvious and towards the less evident. I went from being merely an observer to becoming a seeker.

I believe that as we go about living our day to day lives, there is an unseen spiritual world just out of our sight and everyday awareness. Most of the time I do not think much about it, I’m sorry to say, dwelling instead upon the tangible and the visible. I am easily distracted and sometimes forget that God lives as an eternal presence, as an unseen participant in my life and the life of the world around me. Sometimes I need to be reminded and He chooses well the tools He uses to bring my mind back around to Him. Today it was the mysterious insects hovering over the fields. They seemed to be floating in the air as mist and were only visible when the light was just right and the eye was in just the right position to see them. It was as if God left a hint to look for Him in unexpected times and places and I found myself wondering in what other manner He might have left similar reminders. I began actively looking for that which I would have missed if I had not been paying attention. I came upon a stand of Queen Anne’s Lace and noted the single tiny dark floret in the center of the flower head, surrounded by all the white ones. I found evidence of a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar in a partially eaten sassafras leaf, though the caterpillar was nowhere to be seen. I thought about all those maddeningly successful weeds that appear in my garden, though I have never seen the seeds from which they have sprouted. It was as if God were pointing out the fact that He is always present, whether we are aware and attuned to him or not.

It is human nature to be drawn to mysteries and children are not the only ones who enjoy looking for the next clue or piece of the puzzle. I think that God sometimes tailors His dealings with us according to those tendencies in order to draw us through our natural curiosities and wonderings. He whispers to us, sometimes in the wind or in the call of the geese, sometimes in a hymn or lines from His Word. He invites our questions, our challenges, our unbelief. He bids us come and search and although He may seem to have hidden, I believe He awaits just the right moment to reveal Himself. At least that was my experience today. I began my walk primarily attentive to the here and now and to the mundane tasks and concerns of everyday life. I ended it attentive to the unseen world of God’s care and the mystery of His involvement in the world around me. I will forget again and He will remind me, as He has so often in the past. My remembering God does not depend on my faulty memory nor on my determination to keep Him in mind. It depends on His gracious willingness to leave me reminders of Himself and to point me towards those reminders. What I do with them is up to me.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Full of Life

I have been meaning to keep a chronicle of my garden so that in the future I may look back and remember how it looked and what plants were blooming when. I never seem to get around to keeping that promise to myself so I am writing about it here. The garden behind our house is glorious, if I do say so. The trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, take up the better part of the back yard, and though I have left some walking paths, by the end of the season even they will be overgrown and difficult to navigate. It is a garden full of vegetation indigenous to this part of PA and is just now starting to come into its riotous summer bloom. In this sacred space tiny flies, bees, beetles, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and songbirds go about their daily tasks of eating, breeding and dying and it will soon be filled with the myriad melodies of crickets and katydids, as well.

Lately I have been thinking of this patch of earth as my contribution to the threatened populations of our local pollinators. My garden has become more of a study in ecology than in aesthetics, in restoration rather than style. Though people sometimes say they find the plantings beautiful, mere beauty is no longer my goal. Survival is. Since our human landscape has significantly altered the available habitat for the insects, birds, amphibians and mammals of our region, planting a garden that helps to provide for their need is an act of stewardship I find richly rewarding. And the best and most effective means to accomplish that goal is through the planting of plants that have been a part of Penn's Woods since before the first settlers arrived.

Pastels seem to be the dominant shade in the garden at the moment, though that will soon be changing. There is lavender, red and fushia beebalm, pink swamp and common milkweed, pinkish purple coneflowers, blue wild petunia, pink downy phlox, yellow coreopsis, and a magnificent orange stand of butterfly weed. In the next few days, yellow black-eyed susans and three-lobed coneflower will open, along with purple liatris, pink and white garden phlox, pink meadowsweet and some yellow early goldenrod. Later will come various species of asters, goldenrods, joe-pye weed, ironweed, and the golden color of the flowering warm-season grasses.

Each year I also plant in some non-native annuals that will grow big and lush by the time of the fall hummingbird migration. These plants will provide sustenance and calories to be converted into body fat before the long non-stop trip to South America. A few males are already regularly coming to the flowers, as are a couple of females, but by later in August the garden's airspace will become something akin to the halls outside a middle-school cafeteria at lunch time. There will be hummingbirds chasing, bullying and jostling one another all over the yard, eating on the run and putting on weight. Watching these autumn scenes is especially fulfilling as I contemplate the fact that the nourishment these small but scrappy creatures find in our yard will be what helps them make their long journey to the next stage of their lives.

Having a garden that sustains the life of the Creation embodies the concept of stewardship. It is a tangible means of partnering with God in caring for what He has made and what He intends to live on. I have realized that, for myself, participating in the sustenance of Creation is an act of worship springing from a grateful heart hoping to make a positive contribution to what is left of God's natural world. The invitation is open to all who care about the life around us. The invitation is open to you.