Thursday, May 19, 2016
Beauty by Accident
As some of you have gleaned, gardening is for me a meditative tool for understanding things about myself and about the workings of the world.
My level of calm and contentment at any given moment is in almost direct proportion to the time it takes me to get the dirt out from under my fingernails at the end of the day. (A TMI tidbit: repeated vigorous fingertip lathering of the wiry-haired naughty regions during a shower is almost as good as a toothbrush or nail brush for getting dirt out from under the fingernails. Much better than shampooing the more silky-haired noggin.)
But I digress. What I'm observing while now sitting in an adirondack chair in the shade today is how often beautiful things evolve by accident
Several years ago I planted several shrubs in a small front-yard island to form a kind of backdrop for a little concrete birdbath. The intent was to shield the birdbath from the street, but to make it visible from the house. Among the shrubs there is nine-bark, a flowering spirea, a yellow-leaved barberry, and some other shrub whose name I've forgotten (yes, I'm that type of gardener). There was also a weigela that unfortunately went to that great compost heap somewhere along the way. A clump of volunteer monkshood has grown up it its place—not a shrub, but big enough to be kind of shrub-like in its impact, and also providing dark indigo flowers in the frigid fall, well after the first hard frost.
The little shrub island has languished a little for years, barely acceptable but never achieving the look I hoped. At various times I considered major renovation on the mess, but because I didn't really see in my mind's eye a replacement goal, I just waited. Historically, I've not been a patient man by nature, but ever so gradually over the years I've come to understand that change is inevitable enough as it is. The world changes between each blink of the eye anyway, so I no longer feel all that compelled to speed change along unless some inspirational idea hatches to drive me to action. "If you don't know what to do, wait until you do," a friend once mentioned to me. And I agree.
As I look at the shrub grove now, though, I find that it has evolved into something resembling perfection, at least for this moment. The shrubs form a solid mass of backdrop leaves shielding the street and framing the little bird bath statues and iris in the foreground. Its foliage colors complement one another in a way that pleases me, especially in that amber light near dawn or dusk. Several little songbird families have taken up within the dense leaves (my favorite is a pair of chickadees clearly nesting within), and a white-tailed rabbit has a den somewhere inside, too. The presence of a rabbit is itself not a happy thing for a gardener who grows lilies or lupine, but the damn little beast makes my wife and daughter smile, and for this moment, at least, the whole vignette produces an effect that seems quite perfect to me.
This is the way gardening has been for me—the way life has been, for that matter. Perfection very often erupts almost by accident out of ingredients that just a little while before were clearly, and sometimes extremely, flawed. Better late than never, patience has become a decided virtue for me as old age begins to dawn. Lacking an inspirational idea to guide, my best decisions have been to watch and wait until things inevitably evolve into something entirely different and sometimes wonderful. After all, you can always leap into action if things turn to real crap.
Critics will point out that the pleasant little shrub grove would never have happened if I had not planted those shrubs some years ago—an act of deliberate will, and hardly accidental. True enough, I grant you. But then I would point out that this present beauty would not exist if I'd rushed into a an act of replacement too quickly, simply because the plantings failed to obey my immediate will.
And it's also quite true that our acts of will don't always get it exactly right. There is still (and always) an element of accident that steers the most deliberate of plans. After all, this little snapshot of perfection I perceive today doesn't exactly resemble that vision I had six years ago.
In my perfect vision, there were no rabbits in the garden, just red-tailed hawks to manage the rabbits.