Tag: gardens

Gardening is Like Religion

Echinacea Purpurea

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God(s) or Deities that are imagined in the likeness of human beings. I don’t believe in higher powers with lists of rules and regulations that must be followed to avoid spiritual stagnation, or worse, damnation. The idea of a higher power with a thirst for blood, vengeance, and world domination seems like a shabby reflection of humankind rather than an elevated and evolved energy/being/power. Most depictions of Gods and Devils bear a striking resemblance to the emotional maturity of a human toddler.

Every time I talk about my garden, about gardening in general, about how I feel when I’m in the thick of my plants, I’m talking about my version of religious practice. In my garden there is no plant that is lord of all the plants, there is no law that is the law of all beings, and the idea of virtue is egalitarian. I give dandelions pride of place just as I give roses pride of place.

My garden is a small ecosystem, a universe constantly expanding and contracting with the seasons, with new information, new ideas, established roots, thick bark and thin. Within the small ecosystem of my garden there are micro ecosystems and all of them reflect the greater universe all around it.

When I finally got myself a diagnosis for my mental illness it was clear that I needed the support of medication to keep myself safe and healthy, but my psychologist asked me what I do in my life that is calming, that makes me feel good, centered, and happy. I told him that deadheading my roses always pushed my anxieties aside, that it brought a quietness to my brain that I rarely experience otherwise. I told him that one of my keenest pleasures was to cut roses to place around my house. He suggested I make my roses part of my daily self-care, part of my mental health-care routine.

This morning I watered my front and side gardens and then deadheaded my roses. I brought my cup of coffee out there with me. I was still in my pyjamas. When I’m out there with my plants I’m not an infirm obese middle aged woman, I’m just another spirit among kin. The plants speak to me in color, in shade, in density, in volume. They speak to me in shattered petals, old scabs, and new sap. When I’m in my garden I make sense, I belong, I am never shunned nor judged. I am not lord of my garden, I’m part of it.

My garden full of wild sproutlings, sudden inexplicable deaths, and regal insectary towers reminds me at all times simultaneously of my insignificance and my influence on the outcome of universal truth. I matter here, I just don’t matter more than anything else does. I am equal with the plum tree and dandelions alike. When I’m weeding I know what’s truly bothering me the most because nothing amplifies my worries more than total silence and the bitter tears of false dandelion smeared across my hands. I can’t make my brain stop playing the endless tapes that cause it so much distress, but when I let them play while I’m buried waist high in my wildflowers, their power over me is diminished as everything is leveled among the plants and the locusts chewing on them.

I’m struggling pretty hard right now to be okay with humans, with BEING human. I’m struggling pretty hard right now against my own brain that doesn’t exist peacefully in the world in which it must function. Even with medication I can’t shut out all the noise of all the pain others are going through, all the spirits being crushed  by systems that oppress love and celebrate hate.

My garden is my religion. My religion is the smell of hot blackberries hanging heavily sweet on the summer air. My religion is camouflaging myself among the Lacy Phacelia as though I grew from a winter seed up into a six foot tall flower that looks like a synchronized Busby Berkeley number performed exclusively by purple caterpillars.  My religion is trial and error, accidentally thick pasta, opera playing full blast over a bowl of rising bread dough, my accordion playing Amazing Grace into the golden hour. My scripture is knowing to deadhead roses to a 5 leaf set.

It isn’t my place to give benediction, it isn’t my place to request favors of a God I don’t believe in. What I CAN do is let my plants breathe with me and you and the stars above.

My garden is my religion. It’s a place of healing, belonging, and perspective.

Finding My Walking Groove Again

I am a walker.  I was never into sports or the gym or jogging or hiking but I can walk across a city with great enthusiasm and speed.  When I lived in San Francisco I walked everywhere.  I rode my bicycle sometimes and of course I took Muni at night or when I didn’t have time to walk to where I was going or if I was headed for a rougher neighborhood than I wanted to walk alone in.  Though there really weren’t many neighborhoods I wouldn’t walk in.

I especially like walking while listening to music on headphones.  I get to block out the noise and the world turns into a silent film with my own hand picked soundtrack.  I love to look at architecture, people, gardens, graffiti, dark alleyways, open doorways.  I love to walk through neighborhoods at dusk when lights are just turning on and the smell of dinner wafts out of windows into the evening air.  It’s such an intimate moment in people’s lives – when they’re sauteing onions and baking things – those smells reach the street and it’s like seeing inside a person’s life through those ordinary and constant daily rhythms.

(This has always been one of my favorite houses in the McDonald neighborhood)

Some cities are better for walking in than others.  Some cities offer more interest to the eye and the nose than others.  What scenery inspires you to get outside and walk is terribly personal.  If you like to walk in one city more than another it isn’t a failing on the part of the city you don’t like to walk in – it’s just not your place.  That’s how McMinnville was for me.  There are a couple of pretty neighborhoods there with cute vintage houses and there are a few interesting gardens to see – but for my tastes it was a tedious place to walk.  A huge proportion of the town was developed after the 50’s so the major building styles are low ranches or the newer developments that are trying to be modern Victorian or fresh takes on bungalows for people who really want mansions.  And most people are fixated on 1 of 3 garden styles and they pretty  much all look the same.

It was a pretty little town in its way but there wasn’t enough variety to hold my attention as a walker.  What I did love were the bulbs in the spring – I have never seen so many beautiful bulbs than I have in Northern Oregon.  The lilacs are stunning and smell wonderful.  And the peonies – which don’t do reliably well here in Northern California – are breathtaking.  I will miss all of those things as the seasons here come and go.

But Santa Rosa is one of the best cities for walking in – for me.  For one thing – there are sidewalks everywhere.  (In McMinnville there were a surprising number of streets that had no sidewalks.)  I remember when I first lived here in Santa Rosa how surprised I was that I could go walking every day and find a new garden to admire, a new hidden street I hadn’t walked through before, and a new neighborhood tucked behind a familiar one.  There are parts of Santa Rosa that are hideously ugly.  No question about that.  There are several strip malls that are like pockmarks of doom in the city.  All of Santa Rosa Avenue is one endless open-air strip mall.  There are also plenty of gross planned McMansion neighborhoods you can live in if you like that sort of thing.  But most of them are on the outskirts because the city was developed quite a long time ago and the only room for new developments were on the edges of the city, expanding it’s boundaries.

I live downtown.  So from my house I can go in any direction and hit a cool neighborhood predominantly comprised of vintage houses of the charming kind.  Whether run down or poshed up – there’s lots of variety.  I can go a long way without running into a modern planned development.  When I first came back here I was so bunched up and worn out and ragged that taking walks for exercise seemed like more effort than I could bear.  I got a gym membership at the Y and started off using it a lot.  I love the Y.  However, collecting walnuts in the neighborhood brought my feet back to earth and fresh fall air to my lungs and I’ve been working myself up to more regular walking.

The thought of going to the Y now seems tedious.  Chick needs exercise and she’s not allowed to use the treadmills at the Y.  So.  I haven’t been to the gym in weeks but I’ve been out in the fresh air with Chick.  The side benefit to this is that the gardens I see on my walk have been stirring my hunger to get back out into the dirt.  I don’t have a big area to garden here, as I’ve mentioned, since the back yard is almost all shade and filled with a huge oak tree and a big stand of bamboo.  But there’s plenty I can do with the small front and we’ve decided to build some beds in the stupidly long driveway that gets tons of light.

So I’ve been getting out into the yard between rains this week.  Just maintenance stuff like sweeping the crepe myrtle crud off the sidewalk to avoid lawsuits.  I trimmed up my potted bay trees.  I cut back the enormous salvias choking the little walkway under my office window.  Yesterday I took Chick to the McDonald neighborhood for a 45 minute vigorous walk.  It’s where all the rich people live who like old houses (as opposed to those who like to live in mansions in new developments).  Many of the streets in the McDonald neighborhood are double wide.  There are quaint little alleys between streets where service people enter. Yep.  Service people.  And that’s where the trash cans go too.  You will never see a trashcan on the actual streets there.  I used to walk that neighborhood frequently.  I love the old houses and the gardens.

I’m a happy walker again.  My hip sometimes hurts afterwards for a day or two but I’m trying not to notice.  Just keep moving… just keep moving…