Sunday, September 5, 2010

Rhythm, or, On Why I Garden

In a globalized world, seasons nary exist. My evidence: Costco supplies me with plump, delicious blueberries (my favorite fruit) approximately 10 months of the year. From mid-April to early October, I savor the mild, then sweet, then tart ‘Down East’ and Canadian blueberries, at which point my fix is satisfied (from October to late January) by my southern suppliers of Peru and Chile.

Sure, we occasionally must bundle our bodies in layers of wool to ward of the damp chill of winter, or dive into the cooler mid-Atlantic waters during the heat of summer (when is summer, I have to ask, given temperatures in the mid 90s in April, and August heat since late May, and occasional late warm and humid days in December?). But our culinary experiences, perhaps our closest connection to the natural rhythms of life, are now more fully liberated from the ebb and flow of the temperatures and light as the earth makes its annual revolution around the sun.

And though I rejoice in eating blueberries each morning, whether during April showers or in the midst of January nor’easters, I can’t help but feel disconnected from a life, from a world, that really never was mine in any experiential sense. I am not a farmer, nor did I grow up on a farm—and farm life is to be the quintessential experience of nature, though farmers may be inclined to shop at Costco too! But there is something indelibly magnificent, nostalgically magical, about heading into one’s root cellar in the winter to retrieve a squash, or to remove a Ball’s canning jar from the shelf to experience that sweet essence of jam you canned last summer. The magic, in my view, precipitates from experiencing each season in isolation from others; from consuming the beauty and the bounty, and accommodating the deficits of each season unto itself; and relying on one’s skills to self-sustain as much as possible.
Thus I deeply admire my friend Leslie’s uncanny ability to concoct stellar jams, and to market them to her friends with such tantalizing titles such as “Berry Brosia” or “Strawba-Mama-Cotta” (I know I got that one wrong!). Or I feel an inner fire ignited when my father speaks of building a root cellar. Or I admire from afar the antics and lives of Josh and Dr. Brent at Beekman 1802 who live a life I fantasize about living (in a restored 18th century mansion and on a working farm in upstate New York) but do not possess the intellectual, financial, emotional, or physical capacities or abilities to do so.

My abilities are more limited: in lieu of a lapel flower, I don an autumn leaf. And I garden.

Schizophrenic weather aside—the jostling of temperatures and seasons contending for calendar space at the peril of our gardens and more tender plants such as Corydalis flexuosa Blue Panda, which began to emerge from aestivation with the advent of cooler temperatures two weeks ago, but was staved off by typical August heat last week; the white-margined hostas begin to turn yellow, readying for their winter naps, all the while sending up new shoots; Orange Marmalade has lost its lustrous quality; Autumn Joy sedum bloomed early this year, like every other plant, and has past its prime joy, even before autumn has officially begun—gardening I have come to discover and appreciate offers me the opportunity to live a life I am capable of living, to be a self I am capable of being, and of dabbling in things greater and more sublime than I ever could be. I do in order to allow things to be. In that sense, my professional (teaching) and gardening lives merge, each a reflection of the other, two of many parts of a whole.