Sunday, April 4, 2010

Gardening in Time, I

After many years in academia, Viet and I took our very first spring break vacation. Montreal was lovely—all the more so as 3 seasons were neatly compressed into 5 days. Aside from the record-breaking “heat” on Friday, les printemps in Montreal offered very few clues of its existence: the only visible greens appeared in the form of mini-ferns on the eastern side of Mont Royal, a lovely carpet of blue scilla on two hilly spanses of the McGill University campus, and a few typical spring bulbs in planters in front of stores. But in our absence, the gardens at 410 provided a vastly different experience of time.

Though an early spring bout of cold (and a deluge!) clearly impeded plant development, flowers bloomed (like the Brunnera macrophylla pictured above), many hosta and hydrangea leaves unfolded, and fern fronds unfurled (like the wonderfully hairy fronds of the Holly Fern).

Just by strolling around the garden beds in early spring, I feel the acceleration of time, for a growing season is encapsulated in a few months. From the piercing of the soil after a long winter hibernation, to the unfolding of leaves, to the flowering and growth through the warm summer months, to the drama of autumn and lovely hues of yellows, bronzes, reds, and oranges as the temperatures dip and the chlorophyll drains, readying the plant for its annual rest, time can be measured as series of moments, each one resplendent and dictated toward some purpose. Life unfolds, life performs, life passes me by even as its rhythm moves me along…

Yet I also feel the compression of time and this instinctive need to experience life as a series of specific, appreciable moments lest it pass me by. But always in the particularities, by which I mean each plant’s specific needs and displays, I discern certain universals, for each plant yearns for the same rays of light, captures necessary moisture, and flourishes in warmth (though not always in heat). The reality of the plant, the existence of the frond and the flower alike, offer a rich tapestry of how life can be lived, of how one can be, and the sheer inner peace of being attuned to such diversity.

Time for the gardener is accelerated and compressed, and on each of these distinct axes, the gardener faces and experiences the fortitude and the solitude of life itself. I am alive, alone yet not lonely, staring deep into the fluorescence of Brunnera’s ethereal blue, contemplating what worlds lie beyond and what worlds I can help create…

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