Planting a Life: How Keeping A Garden Is Good For The Soul (December)

Rev. Judith Laxer

On lucky December northwest days, the Sun barely makes a low, distant arc before descending. He angles in my window, weak and brilliant. The Winter Solstice approaches. Solstice means ‘sun stop’. The Ancients believed this to be a miraculous time when the days were so short, it felt as if sunlight would diminish completely and night would move in and take over. They kept vigil on the longest night and celebrated the sun’s return as it rose the next morning. The life giving sun returns! Each day will begin to lengthen, for a mere few minutes, but we’ll take it. Living so closely to the Earth, the Ancients followed Nature’s ways. They tucked in for a long Winters’ nap. Huddled close to stay warm. Protected themselves against the ravages of the elements. Dreamed of the future. Shared their larders. They were not obliged to go shopping.

I walk my garden now, taking in the changes. The few brave Romaine lettuces that remain, standing tall and green through their blanket of heavy leaves. The kale keeping its ground, a promise of Spring. Several beets that still await my dinner plate. But the most activity my garden sees in December is the flutter of birds on barren branches, the neighbors cat triumphantly trotting through, her mouth holding something hunted and now dead, the quick distracted dance of squirrels and the slow swaying gait of the possum tripping on the motion detector light late after dark. And the biggest animal there-me, pruning the Apple, Lilac and Hawthorn trees, moving leaves where they will do the most good, bringing in the planter pots so they don’t crack in the cold. I toss October’s un-carved pumpkin to decompose in a garden bed, imagining the seeds that will sprout next year from their sticky, orange womb. I revel in a momentary future celebration. Checking off my mental notes, I take no further action. I could start building a new raised garden bed but I don’t. I fancy I am a bit like the Ancients, knowing Winter is a time for rest.

My eyes gaze on the huge Blue Spruce, looking so strong and brave it makes me feel safe. But when they rest on the tall canopy of the old Butterfly Bush, its blooms now blackened by Winter, it causes me to ponder. How can the trees stand the cold for so long? What is this magic they possess that they can drop their sap, go dormant, and survive? The wind will shake them during the season, but they themselves don’t shiver. They become like a hollow bone with tenacious roots that hold them alive. How very still they get, disappearing inside themselves. Oh, to do that! To drop sap, get still, retreat and safely survive when conditions become too cold to endure.

December in the garden is like the deepest corner of the soul. Life is there, underground, invisible in some hidden place. There is essential beauty to marvel at, and the trimming away of the useless. There is a quiet solace within, safe from harsh, outer conditions. A place of possibility holding an unapologetic truth; Nature just is.

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