This time when I drove to the women’s monastery about an hour from here, it was not for a lecture or a service or for contemplative time; it was for a stint of strenuous gardening. The nuns had put out a call for helpers to get the woodsy place under control after the rainy winter and spring have brought out tall weeds of many sorts.
When I came through the open gate I didn’t see anyone around, so I wandered a bit in the direction of some hammering noise. It was Sister Xenia repairing a rabbit hutch. She took me to find Sister Mary, whose day it was for gardening, and she in turn led me to the area I’d be working in.
“We got the weeds whacked down the other day, and now they need to be raked….This plant that is falling across the path needs to be trimmed back….Ivy is growing all over the quince tree and we want to get it out so the tree will have a better chance of bearing more than the three quinces it did last year.”
I put on my gloves, apron, and bandana to keep hair out of my face, and trimmed the blooming borage, leaving some branches so that the sisters could put the flowers in their salads.
Then the raking – whew! A giant eucalyptus tree stands above the monastery grounds and constantly drops pieces of bark, which combined with oak leaves and various other organic material has made a thick and tangled layer of debris that is turning into duff. On top of that were the strewn grassy weeds.
I pulled and yanked with my rake, and piles of scraped-up stuff grew tall in no time. “Someone” with a truck is now looked for both to haul all these piles away, and bring in some topsoil for the vegetable garden. I didn’t see the vegetable garden, but Sister Xenia said she works in it Wednesdays and Thursdays and maybe I would like to join her once a month or something like that? I always do think I can do anything, once a month. Maybe.
The poor quince tree took a long time. I hope he feels better and more fruitful. The sprucing-up was a challenge because on one side of the tree yard waste has been thrown down for many years, as we were led to understand (I had been joined by Tatiana and her son), creating a sort of man-made terrace. The ground level on that side is a several feet higher than on the other side, so that the tree is sort of growing out of a bank.
When I was below, I scrabbled up the “bank” that was mostly eucalyptus rubble, and stretched my tallest to pull as much ivy as I could from the branches. Sometimes three strands of ivy would be twisted round-and-round a thin branch, but at least this kind of ivy was tender and with care could be torn away.
Then I walked back up the path to the other side and leaned way out, trying not to fall through the mulch, to pull at the ivy from that direction. After the ivy was gone, the many dead limbs were revealed, so I began pruning them out as well as I could with loppers. Several of them are so big they need to be sawed off, but I didn’t try doing it by myself in a precarious spot like that.
Sticky weed is one plant that I went to war with at the monastery. Sister Mary called it that; I had never heard a name for it before, maybe because I never even saw it before a couple of years ago. Its usual common name is bedstraw or catchweed; it is Galium aparine. I pulled lots of this icky-sticky vine out of shrubs and flowers and everywhere, and it fought for its survival by depositing sticky little seeds all over my hair, gloves, socks….trying to come home and thrive here, no doubt.
Gardening is always a workout for me these days, given my age and the way the work always seems to have multiplied by the time I get there. A weed is easier to pull when it is small, to give a small example of what I’m talking about. Today was no different in that way, but the tasks I did made me use some different muscles, so I feel well exercised, shall we say.
It was lovely being at the monastery, and I’m glad I could be of use. I might have had some contemplative time while gardening if my mind hadn’t been so engrossed in solving garden problems and keeping my two feet under me. So if I go again, I’ll plan to spend the day and take breaks with the sisters in the church.