Peeping the Land: A Survey
August 16, 2014
An editor at Mpls. St. Paul magazine called me once to ask about gardening. It was late January, snowy and cold, and on the bus that morning going to work, he eavesdropped on a conversation between two women who were cooing over a seed catalog that one of them had just received in the mail. They were joyous as they carefully turned each page anticipating their own delight. Not once were they disappointed. The bright colors and ridiculous names never failed them: Ghost Rider Pumpkins, Orchid Daddy Petunias, Yard-long Beans, Dwarf Mount Royal European Plums. He was quite certain that these women would not buy any seeds, let alone plant them. What is it, he wanted to know, about seed catalogs?
That was in 1989, twenty-five years ago. My answer then, published in a short commentary, was that gardens are about hope and promise, and I still believe that. Vulnerable sprouts give way to leaves and flowers; flowers give way to seeds; seeds fulfill the promise of renewal, keeping their own counsel throughout the winter and shouting up from the winter-wet ground in the spring as though by magic. Most of the time in our large-span human lives the beginnings and ends of things are far separated. Fulfillment often passes through us unnoticed. The garden is a welcome metaphor: a sweet beginning, a riotous middle, a contemplative ending that is also a new beginning.
Yesterday I took photos of my current perennial garden. When I looked at them, I was surprised at how small the garden looks against the backdrop of tall grasses, trees, open sky, and distant clouds. My effort seems silly, for how could anything I planted be more beautiful than that horizon. It is as though I am stamping my little foot saying, “I am here, too—I am bright and beautiful, though small and without power.” Should I lay down my trowel? No. There is an earthly promise of seasonal renewal in the horizon, but hope is grounded in the human heart, and that is where we plant our seeds.