Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rethinking Torture

Anyone who treats gardening as a vocation—not as a hobby, an afternoon or weekend activity, but as a calling—knows that to sit and observe the product of our toil (a toil to create that urban oasis or backyard retreat, a meditative space or a romantic cottage garden) is akin to torture. A visual survey invariably spies an errant weed, a necessary pruning, a specious arrangement, a fallen twig, a deadening flower, an importunate blight. Yesterday, Viet and I took our afternoon tea on the deck, and though I graded 5 papers (this is the end of the semester), I breathed a sigh of relief that the pile was gradually shrinking, and sat back to enjoy the garden and the breeze. Immediately, the urge to transplant, to plant (poor Guacamole hosta which, thanks to Viet for identifying the perfect spot, finally has a home!), to weed, to think, to rearrange, to paint new proverbial brushstrokes on the verdant canvas awoke within, and the body began moving about. Such is the stuff of gardening; indeed, such is even the joy of gardening!

But there is a particular moment in time when the gardener can utter the word tranquility and, more poignantly, experience it even as the body moves about: at dawn. Each year, as summer approaches, my body experiences an odd celestial alignment, and I awake earlier and earlier. I arose in the blackness of the early morning and went about my business. A steady rain fell, but that did not nor could not stop me. Rather, darkness reigned, so gardening ventures had to be postponed.

After grading a few more papers, answering emails, and reading the news, I wandered about outside. Neighbors slept. All human-produced or related sound was momentarily purged from my small portion of the globe. A light rain occasionally, briefly fell. Droplets of water artistically collected on the delicate leaves of the Lady's Mantle. A euphony beckoned: the black capped chickadee perched on a wire above my head most likely was communicating with its kin, but I only heard a conversation between it and the warbler. And though the mockingbird did exactly what its name suggests, the wrens ignored its impetuous disdain and awarded me with a symphonic colloquy.

Miss Gray Kitty, a sweet, affectionate little girl who neighbors abandoned last fall and who now resides on my front porch, followed me as she does, occasionally meowing to protest that the dahlia received more attention than she.

Big Blue Angel and Lemon Drop hostas greeted me—the latter even eagerly displaying a slug that it wished me to smite; I happily acquiesced. I walked to and fro, being careful to make as little sound as possible.

Tranquility, I opined, is misunderstood. In movement, even in frenetic stirrings, one may experience the most sublime form of tranquility—one not even engendered by sitting in the garden.  At that moment I glanced at the Buddha, and thought, “a good Buddhist I would not make, for I cannot sit still.” And the Buddha, its eyes permanently closed in meditative posture, winked at me. And the chickadee belted a mellifluous tune. I stood upright, feeling at one and at peace with the world, being careful not to disturb the ephemeral serenity of the early morning, and went about my business intent on doing my part to keep torture at bay.

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