Planting a Life: How Keeping A Garden Is Good For The Soul (Jan.)
By Rev. Judith Laxer
The frost is so white that at first I think it is snow. The infant sun cannot make its way high enough to clear my wall of laurel in the back yard and unable to melt it, the morning remains cold and still and quiet. My feet crunch along the frosty lawn in the laurels shadow, my breath a cloud before me, blankets of stiff maple leaves glisten on the beds. It is January in the northwest garden.
This month is named for the ancient Greek god Janus who presided over all transitions and beginnings. He is depicted with his two faces in profile, one looking to the past and one to the future, and is often found on portals, gates and doorways. His image provokes reflection. This month is aptly named. We stand at the portal of a new year, our plans and resolutions fresh in our heads, intentions strong in our hearts. Champagne and a countdown is all the transition we want. Morning arrives and into the new year we speed, breathless and on the run. We begin taking actions in alignment with our goals. Yet outside the garden is still dormant, sleeping, inactive. Nature might bring all kinds of Wintery weather, but the days have not yet grown long enough for the earth to respond with visible growth in her plant life. Even the hardy kale and winter sprouting broccoli wear coats of frosty stillness.
This causes me to ponder how we have gotten so out of touch with nature. It makes sense that a new year begins once the days start to lengthen after the winter solstice, but the rest of what occurs during the holidays? I can’t make sense of it. The earth still slumbers. Like her, we should be restoring our energy. Instead, we follow the dictates of a culture that views the natural cycles as a backdrop of our lives, instead of the thread that runs through it. We find ourselves spending more time, more money, more energy when we’d do better to conserve these valuable means. In the depths of the season, the Ancients would gather to share what was in their larder- this family had stores of flour from their grain, that family smoked meat and fish, another dried herbs and prepared medicines-precisely because nature does not produce at this time in the cycle. Sharing what has been preciously preserved ensured their community would survive through till Spring. Perhaps they also shared stories around the fire or sang songs together to keep the desolation of Winter at bay. But one party after another? Dressing to impress? Staying up past midnight? Gorging on sweets? Racking up debt? I think not. If we surrender to the true nature of the season, our souls can acquire the deep nourishment of Winter’s rest. We will be most grateful for it when the next season requires all the hard work we are shoring up for now.
As I stand gazing down, I know that underneath the protective mulch and cold-stiffened top layer of soil lie bulbs and seeds deep in gestation. They are not being lazy or lackadaisical. They are not uncaring or unruly. They neither grow and flourish nor shrivel and die. They are safely held in motionless waiting. They are not impatiently waiting, straining at the bit to get on with it, defying nature and jeopardizing their future. They know, without knowing how, that now is the time to stay tucked in and make no effort whatsoever. Soon enough the time will come when the sun will rise higher in the sky and the reaching warmth will signal them to stir and awaken. But not now. Now is the time for the garden to be frosted and gleaming in low slanted light, chilly and still above soil laden with potential. In contrast to our memory of greener, longer days, Winter’s beauty is a deep affair.