Sunday, October 15, 2006

Other People's Gardens

I first took pictures in the community gardens near Rock Meadow in Belmont last December. I remember that day: the snow underfoot, the sun warm on my back, the skeletal remains of plants, the tipsy, cobbled fences winding through the patchwork of garden plots.

I hadn't been there since, so I decided to return, before the snow this year, to photograph the remnants of harvest. I was pleased to find the pink and lavender makeshift peace gate. It seemed slightly worn and beset, but brighter than ever: there was peace to be found here,it said, among growing things and gardeners.

Walking the labyrinth of paths between the small fenced-in plots, I was acutely aware of being a guest, a stranger, practically a trespasser. It was hard not to read wariness and warning in the glaucous eyes of the garden's overseer.

The overseer of the gardens in the Audubon Sanctuary had been more of an oversleeper, and a sign on the gate assured visitors (except rabbits) of their welcome. The Rock Meadow owl was wide awake. I tiptoed past.

I tend to feel like a stranger, an outsider, even in the most familiar of settings. So I reassured myself this was community land and I was a part of, if not the Belmont community, at least I was a citizen in good standing of adjoining Waltham, and proximity should stand for something.

And, if not a gardener, I was, at least, an appreciator of gardens, full of gratitude and praise for the people who'd labored in these plots. That, also, I reasoned, should stand for something. A poet appreciates a reader; a cook appreciates a diner. Surely these gardeners would appreciate someone documenting their work.

The gardens, at least at this time of year, were a composite of the wild and the cultivated. Weeds were happily cohabiting with flowers and vegetables,

chrysanthemum with evening primrose,

sunflower with foxtail,

corn with tansy,

tomato with toadflax,

dahlias and cosmos and vetch.

It was as if impending winter had obliterated distinctions: all living things, humble weed

and prize winning rose,

industrious gardener and loafing photographer

are in it together,

all arising from the same mysterious Source, all headed for the same unfathomable darkness,

and all, while the light still holds, celebrating, each in its own way,

the astonishing given of being here at all.

The last shall be first, says the text. The meek shall inherit, the empty shall be filled. The garden of the world collapses through autumn toward winter. Recently, I sat on a rock in the bed of a dried up vernal pool, thinking

what songs sleep in the mud below my feet ? It's a long haul from ordinary time to Easter, but everything's contained within the kingdom of this moment, this mud: absence, presence, birth, death, longing, resurrection.

This year I hear Rilke's autumnal who has no house now differently.

On Sundays, now, I sit in my new house amidst my new siblings, holding back decades of tears. Foster child of God, I still don't quite believe my good fortune. I'm stumbling awkwardly through some strange, unofficial mystagogia -- post baptism, pre-confirmation -- awaiting further instructions.

They'll come to me unexpectedly, I'm sure, like the briefings handed off surreptitiously to secret agents, and they'll be labeled burn or, more aptly, eat after reading.

But, for the time being, it's someone else's garden, a garden to which I've nonetheless been welcomed despite all my failings -- my hard heart, my arrogance, my self-importance, my misanthropy, my distraction; my scorn, my judgment, my anger, my greed, my sharp tongue. It is as in George Herbert's poem --

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

I moved slowly through the astonishing visual gifts of the fall garden. The day grew warmer, brighter. Thank you for these things I thought, addressing an absent gardener,

for this spurred, crimson flower wilting on rusty wire,

for the last light that falls on a hanging head,

and for three white blossoms that open, face to frost.

No comments: