April 25, 2010: Tending

I have been on my knees a lot lately.

Kneading soil between my fingers like a baker… breaking up the clay chunks, blending them thoroughly with chocolate-rich compost and sugary-light sand.
I even catch myself sniffing it.  mmmm…healthy soil smells like morning in the heart of a forest.
Countless hours and hours of turning and digging.
Preparing these beds like I would for a house guest.
I’m anticipating the needs of tiny white roots pushing out from the seedlings under our grow lights.
I don’t remember ever spending so much time close to the ground.
Foundation work.
Building a garden from the ground up.
I’ve learned the hard way that there is no quick fix down the road, if the soil is poor.
Since  gardening doesn’t seem to take up all parts of the brain at once, mine loves to wander and ponder while my hands are in the dirt.
              Lately, I’ve been pondering this idea of TENDING…
                           tending one’s garden, one’s relationships, one’s health, one’s life.
Tending, I used to think, was for old ladies with lots of time on their hands.
Watching elderly neighbors fuss over their roses or talk to their cat as they fed it…. I admit I probably thought that was all they had to do with their day.
Tending was slow. Tending was repetitive. Tending was not for me, a busy young mother making her mark in the world. I had places to go, children to deliver, items to check off the list.
I was DOING things… and tending, I guess, looked like just fiddling.
But, I remember a particular day when I was in my busy, “doing” early forties.
It stands out so clearly in my mind, as any watershed moment does.
I was a typical mom- three active/scheduled kids, a young non-profit I had founded, marriage, house and garden, community obligations, etc..
After another long day of pushing myself “out there” in the world, I pulled up to the side of our house. And for some reason, probably a wave of fatigue… or grace…  I looked up and “saw” my garden in a new light.
Wilting brown leaves, struggling roots imprisoned in rock hard soil, stunted flowers crowded with mats of roots.  It certainly didn’t look like the vibrant photos on the nursery tags shoved in beside each plant.
How did it become so, so abandoned?
Hadn’t I had a vision when I bought all those colorful plants? Didn’t I think that adding more and more color would do the trick? Sure, I plopped them in the ground, but I meant to water them regularly. Meant to trim them.  
One day, I told myself…. when I slowed down, when I had time. One day I was going to get out there.
But all the while I was busy planting more gardens in the world- beautiful non-profits and commitments and promises.
Something about that scene, one I had hurried past so many times, broke my heart that day. Sudden tears caught me by surprise.
An untended garden.
          An untended life.
I don’t know why on that day I looked up in the way I did.
I believe our hearts get our attention anyway they need to.
Passing out from lower back pain months earlier or missing dinners with my family because of working late hadn’t done it.
But that sad, neglected garden on that ordinary day did.
It was asking me when I was going to get down on my knees and tend its roots.
My tears whispered that my family and my health were asking me the same question.
I believe tears are like bread crumbs.  If we listen and follow them back to their source, they’ll take us home.
That was 7 years ago when I started my long, winding journey “back to the garden”.
Through writing and meditation I am learning, in the stillness, to listen to what aches for my attention.
By returning to the land, I am reconnecting with what I already know… the smell of healthy soil, the sound of my own voice, the rhythm of the timeless.
Through the presence of tending, I am listening deeply to the dreams of my amazing children and noticing the sweet compassion in my husband’s daily chores.
Together, with the garden as our teacher, he and I are building a healthy farm for ourselves and others.       A place close to the ground.
I am learning to be a Tender

        down on my knees,
           one shovel full at a time.

I hope I am becoming one of those gray-haired ladies.

        The ones with the healthiest roses.

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