Changing Views

GL clary & pineapple sage blooms
Manzanita in a former glorious context

From where I sit at my computer I can’t see the vast expanse of naked hard dirt that makes up most of my back yard now. All I can see is an unchanged view which includes the manzanita, and the conifer branches hanging above the fence.

GL manz peel 7-11
Manzanita in the peeling stage.
GL manzanita 2-13-10
Manzanita blooming in February.

The Landscape Ladies said that my manzanita is a nice shrub and worth keeping. That has been a very comforting word for me to play over in my mind, as I wait for something material (I wrote “concrete” first, but I have had quite enough of concrete for a while.) to be created in the yard. It means that I succeeded in pruning it in such a way that it kept its natural twisty shape.

The last few days I have been feeling unsettled more than my usual, excepting the splendid day when Soldier and Joy and the little boys came over and my capable and willing son did so many handyman things. He helped me prune the strawberry bush into a tree shape.

I read stories to Liam, and a visit to the world of Benjamin Bunny with him snuggled against my chest was the most nurturing activity – for the grandma! I actually cooked that day, too; I baked a frittata. Joy brought a peach pie, and I am heating the last slice in the oven as I type, for my dinner. Having friends J&C around for a couple of weeks has been good; C. is a professional nutritionist — how convenient, eh? — who cooks healthy things, and they have been modeling for me the kind of cooking-and-eating behavior I hope to learn again.

manzanita before planting
Manzanita before planting 2002

For several nights I haven’t been sleeping soundly. Today marks five months of widowhood, and I attended the funeral of a man in my parish, and felt that I was keeping a memorial to my husband at the same time, so that was good, but heavy.

I drove the grandfather of little Mary my god-daughter home after the reception, and that put me in the neighborhood of my favorite thrift store. I went in and tried on a few things, but it was too stressful somehow. I didn’t have the emotional energy. Trader Joe’s is also in that neighborhood so I stopped by there…buying food is more soothing, right? After loading my groceries into the car I sat in it and phoned some friends who want me to come for lunch soon, and I told them I can’t do it this week, because I am “in a slump.” They are people who want to love me, but they are too needy themselves and don’t know how they drain me instead.

GL garden spring 93
Three years after moving in – with rabbit hutches.

On the recommendation of a blogging friend, I am reading Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss by Sameet M. Kumar, a book that tells me to pay attention to what is going on and not to try to escape it. A quote: “Like suffering and grief, resilience — which means having the elasticity and buoyancy to recover from the experience of enduring suffering and pain — may also be a part of the natural order.”

As long as the speed of resilience we are talking about is along the lines of a memory foam pillow, and not a foursquare ball, I think I can believe in it. And I trust it is a natural thing, or at least a supernatural thing….in any case, I can’t make myself “bounce back,”  if I even wanted to, which I don’t. There is no getting back to Before, anyway.

GL 2-16-10 manzanita bloom

Kumar writes, “Mindfulness can help you get reacquainted with the vast potential of each moment of your life — it is the antidote to the endless waiting for tomorrow.” This attitude is what I learn from Orthodoxy, to be present with God all the time, everywhere.  Now that is potential! But for now, being present in the moment means accepting my grief, and accepting that my emotional resources are fairly used up by this kind of activity. As the author says, “…come in full contact with yourself and learn to ride the waves of grief.”GL gr morn glory & aloe 6-07

Working in my garden never drains me, even if it makes me physically tired. Last night I sawed and lopped the dead parts of the osmanthus, and trimmed back the Raphiolepis next to it. I’m running a soaker hose on the osmanthus (Sweet Olive) to encourage its recovery from drought, and the faucet is whining from the backed-up pressure. It’s not a nice noise, but most of the time, now that the yappers are gone, I live in a very quiet neighborhood. As I think back over the 25 years I’ve lived here, so many things have evolved and developed on and around the property.

GL redo02-brick path
Glad workers take on a project.

Thirteen years ago we had to replace all the pool decking, and we took out the diving board to give us more room in our patch of ground at the end of the pool.  We leveled out the raised bed and went outside our comfort zone to build some brick paths. We found lots of bricks from a previous patio or something, buried under the pool decking, and we added gray concrete bricks to tie into the colors of the patio.

The back yard design I am working on now includes a different sort of path, and we are going to remove this brick walkway so that the whole yard will be of a piece. I think the bricks from the Glad Paths might be used to expand the patio into the area where the plum tree was.

GL yard before fence 02
Manzanita in the ground.

The homemade paths served a good purpose for quite a while, but they were never ideal, and I’m not sentimental about them. The manzanita — I should name that bush, perhaps something rhyming like “Juanita” — surprised us in growing steadily north and away from the midpoint between the paths. We came to understand that it was trying to grow out from under the canopy of conifers to the south.

That path that was slim at the outset soon became impossibly narrow on the side that the shrub — I will call her “Margarita” — was growing toward. The only reason I had ever thought of pruning a wild mountain bush like this was to make the pathway passable, but as Margarita grew and grew, there was no way I could both maintain her nice curves and keep the path open.

GL P1000434(1)
widened path

When Mr. Glad retired we expanded the path a bit on that side.

The book on mindfulness makes some very good points, but coming from a Buddhist foundation it is lacking an understanding of why we suffer, and of all the riches that are available to us humans. The author says that people “have a tendency to associate suffering and distress with something being wrong,” but that “Grief has always been part of the order of things, and always will be. As part of suffering, grief too is a natural law.”

I can’t mention this book without saying how sadly wrong he is about that. Death and suffering and grief came into the world through sin, but Christ died to put an end to death. Because it is wrong! It was not in His plan. When He comes again in glory He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor sighing, nor pain. For the former things are passed away.

We will do more than bounce back then; we will be given new bodies for our souls to be reunited with, and we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. Now things are cloudy and blurry, and we walk in faith, with His loving presence and grace always offered to us. He is constant and unchanging, a very present help in troubleGL rhodie 6-11.

In this world, on the other hand, we have constant change, often for the worse. Sometimes just the change itself is hard to bear, even if it is objectively an improvement. In the little realm of my garden I have lamented the lack of sunlight, but now that I have taken out one tree and thinned another, the area that was  fairly shady will now be able to support more sun-loving plants, and I’m happy about that.

But I’ll be a little sad to see the rhododendron go, thought I didn’t care for its color. And the campanula, and sweet woodruff! They will probably be history. So just for memory’s sake — which of course is the purpose of all these pictures — here is a last view of the Woodland Garden patch of yard.

I’m looking forward to some new garden scenes to take pictures of, but glad to have Margarita Manzanita still in view. And come to think of it, I am waiting for tomorrow, waiting in Hope of the Resurrection. But as Martin Luther said, “If I knew that Christ were going to return tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.”

14 thoughts on “Changing Views

  1. I can see you are being so mindful and thoughtful in the various aspects of your grief. It takes a great deal of courage to really think about how you are feeling, and to acknowledge that and make the decision to nurture yourself. You are a brave gardening pioneer, and also a pioneer of your own grief. Be gentle to yourself in your slump. I’m glad you had a baby to cuddle. I have found much comfort in cuddling my youngest, and the dog, on hard days. Much love xx

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  2. Your story is so beautiful and real. Thank you so much for documenting it. I can see how God speaks to you profoundly through your garden. I am a very novice gardener but am finding such joy in the learning, especially the butterflies and bees that visit. As I was cutting back basil this week and feeling the most childlike happiness in doing so, I was struck with the thought: “Of course! It all started in a garden!” I had never thought of that before and I don’t know why, it’s so obvious! My friend and spiritual mentor loved this book called Gardening for God by Jane Mossendew. Have you read it? http://www.ctsbooks.org/gardening-for-god/

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    1. Emmie, I haven’t read that book…I find I have little patience for reading about gardening, unless it is to research a particular plant and its care. If I can’t be actually hands-on with the garden I’d just as soon read about something else, or do housework.
      I also hope to make a garden that the butterflies and bees will enjoy….I have been thinking about what you said about the naturalness of us enjoying the garden, and I’ll be thinking of you in yours!

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  3. Such a wonderful post, with so much to think about. Thank you for sharing the pictures of your beautiful garden. I like reading books about mindfulness–one of the lessons of adulthood for me has been to stay in the moment when I’m feeling sad or anxious. I’d rather skip those feelings, thank you very much! As a rule, I find that it’s better to feel one’s feelings than to avoid them (because you never can really avoid them), although sometimes I give into the urge to eat chocolate and watch TV instead.

    I agree with you that Buddhist thought, while profound in many ways, doesn’t give us the full picture. I like reading Pema Chodron, but have to skip over the parts about how there is no hope and we have to learn to live with that fact.

    Btw, it surprises me not at all that you loved The Architecture of Happiness–in fact, I’ve thought of you as I’ve read it. What a marvelous book!

    xofrances

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  4. Reading your post this morning, I feel as though I have been sitting at your kitchen table (if you have a kitchen table) over a cup of coffee and gladly listening as you share your thoughts and feelings about your life these days. God’s gracious grace . . . it goes so much deeper than words, but I can see in your words how precious it is to you. And to me.
    Please give my regards to Margarita Manzanita. You’ve given her a lovely name.

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  5. I loved your response to the Kumar book. What hope we have as our fixed point of reference when all else is churning. My small group was just talking about mindfulness and acceptance that is different from submission or giving up (Amy Carmichael’s poem called “In Acceptance Lies Peace”). Thank you for sharing with us your journey.

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  6. Ashes for beauty for sure is shown here on this post. I like your analogies. I love your manner of turning your humanity, which is how God made us, upward to God. Even your loss and grief are given back to Him. I hope you will keep gardening, amidst weeds; I hope you will keep writing of your grief and pain amidst great loss and sorrow; I hope you will declare His grace and truth amidst it all. Some things will not make sense this side of Heaven.
    Take care.

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  7. “…accepting that my emotional resources are fairly used up by this kind of activity.”

    I am learning a lot about this too this year. A parishioner in one of my churches once said to me that ‘you can’t give what you don’t have’ and I am seeing that God, in His mercy, does not require of us what is beyond our strength.

    We are still praying for you and send our love.

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  8. I love the way you wove together your account of your daily life at the moment and your thoughts about the book…..I never have seen it as taking away our hope as Christians but only helping me be with the present moment, even when the moment is filled with the work, the very real work, I think, of grieving…I have many health issues which don’t let me garden as much as I would like, but once I did and even now I do some gardening. It is something which takes me out of time into timelessness which is a bit odd since so much of change and time is involved in our plans for gardening. My favorite quote about gardening is the one about it being “the triumph of optimism over experience.” That always makes me laugh. But it is really the triumph of that hope which springs eternal…..I send you my prayers and wishes for your well being…….I find your thoughts very inspiring.

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    1. “So much of change and time is involved in our plans for gardening.” Our gardening love must have something to do with the satisfaction of participating with the Creator, in having small influence (we hope, optimistically, for good!) over the life and development of plants. I do lose track of time when I am in the garden, that’s for sure! I really appreciate your prayers and good thoughts.

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