The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- November 2000

November 12 - afternoon

It has been difficult to write about what is on my mind because so much has.

I have found no discernable path out of grief. With every step, the way either opens, or is obscured. There is no predictable pattern, just the randomness of the everyday mixed with a sense of being lost.

My backyard is a sad mirror of my state of mind. The big push to start the garden was drowned out by one deluge followed by another. Now, "the garden" is a series of messes: a half dug pond filled with muddy water; piles of skeletal bamboo roots; and containers crammed together out of harm's way. I feel a deep need to grab a shovel and start laying out the nice, ordered pathways that I have sketched on paper, but must wait till the ground dries and we have completed the task of hauling in and tilling the new soil.

My life, our lives, will never be as neatly ordered as the straight lines I have drawn out for my garden. The straightening, or order, if there is such a thing, comes from grappling with what lies before us- known and unknown, clear and obscure. We must keep walking the path and working the soul.

A special note: My thanks to the many individuals who have written to share their words of comfort and hope.

November 18 - morning

A cold and rainy morning. My thundering herd of kittens and cats has finally quieted down, allowing me the chance for a little reflection.

The back yard is still a sodden mess, though my vision of the garden to be has been progressing. Gardens always change: we plant things, move them, dig them up and give them away. In my case, the garden has been changing before it even takes shape.

One of the central features that I had been planning for the garden was to be an allee of bald cypress. ("Allee" is a French term for an symmetrical double line of trees.) However, after spending much time judging the light patterns of the backyard, I decided that the cypress trees would be too crowded by the existing elms. My vision of a mock Hill Country stream course had to be adjusted. Or did it? Perhaps my allee would mimic the headwaters of the Sabinal River and I could use big tooth maples, a much smaller tree than the cypress, and one that also grows in the canyons of the Hill Country. So for days I scoured the nurseries of Central Texas looking for ten matched maple trees. No such luck, big tooth maple is a rarity in the nursery trade and I can't find anyone who has two trees, much less ten.

As chance might have it, on a trip to a nursery that is just around the corner from my house, I saw ten perfectly matched possumhaw hollies. Possumhaw is one of my favorite native trees, it is a tough and durable plant that puts on an incredible winter show when it sheds its leaves to reveal thousands of tomato red berries. All of a sudden, the vision of a "tunnel" of possumhaw branches covered with berries sounded like magic.

So, from the grand, cathedral like architecture of the bald cypress, to possumhaw hollow, my garden is evolving before I have even lifted a spade. Will my plans change again? Who knows. But for now, my dreams have shifted as I wait for the rains to end.

November 27 - morning

It is a gorgeous crystalline morning, cool and clear and full of the promise of good gardening weather. The ground has begun to dry, and if I can hold out for just one or two more days, I think that we can begin to work the soil without damaging the "tilth" or quality of the turned earth.

I have begun to purchase some of the plants for the backyard, including six bald cypress trees. Yes, I have changed my mind again! I just could not forgo the architecture of the cypress trunks and the delicacy of their leaves. Also, I have long imagined the centerpiece of the garden being a stylized recreation of a Hill Country stream, and no other plant could really accomplish that goal. In order to accomodate these trees, I had to prune our existing elms, removing an entire tree and a few overhanging branches. I have also decided to change the garden plans just enough to also include a small allee of possumhaw- I will have my cake and eat it too!

Last week, I met with an Episcopal priest whom I admire greatly. After our conversation he took me on a tour of his own garden which is woven around a spectacular site- his home is a converted grist mill from the 1850's that backs onto a small creek. The grounds come complete with a limestone cliff face, a charming old carriage house, and a truly spectacular magnolia. As we walked through the garden, I began to describe the plans for my own backyard, I went into some detail, enough detail, in fact, that he cautioned me against planning too much in advance. Wise counsel. I had to laugh to myself though, how many times in the past three weeks have I changed my plans?!

A word about Thanksgiving... Since the death of my brother, I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to be thankful- to be, in Job's words, "comforted that I am dust." My goal is to be able to live gratefully in the face of my own mortality and afflictions. It is certainly not an easy task, I am prone, as I suspect we all are, to fits of self pity and egotistical rage. However, despite our individual and cultural greed, I have learned that gratitude can be found even in the darkest moments.

My family changed its Thanksgiving ritual this year. Instead of gathering at my parents house, we convened here in Austin. Despite the trauma of losing Jeff, we were thankful for our memories of him and for our continued and strengthened love. It was a beautiful Thanksgiving. I hope that you found time to be thankful as well. Grow in peace.

Continue to December 2000

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