Draw Back to the Garden

Motherhood is work.
And work is play
Until the demands of my duty
Fill the hours of the day

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Melville’s sea and my garden

My first flower order of the year came at the fresh and breezy beginning of May, after the first rush of rose blooms, before the dahlias, pincushions and zinnias start their takeover of my morning hours. The calendula is beginning to speak up. The snapdragons are showing promise. Here and there new flowers are whispering that they are ready for their first bloom. Some garden beds are a disappointment. Some feel more like an investment in the future.

“It will look amazing next spring!” I say, pointing to a bunch of transplant-shocked plants. I know I should transplant in the fall. I know it. But when the plants are healthy is just when I can see they are crowding each other and where its creeping roots might be severed to fill in the gaps of another bed. 

With the first flower order complete, and with ten more bouquets besides to sell bound or  The Loreto Market, an outdoor market we hosted outside our home. As the market progressed, my stand emptied out until the last bouquet sold.

After hours of clipping, cleaning, and arranging I thought how welcome a break would be. Let the bees have the blooms for a few days. Before two days passed, I was back in the garden, gushing over my third peony plant in bloom. Its scent wafted up my nostrils as I tied the arching stems to a stake.

“Motherhood is work,” a priest reminded me.

The simple words spoke volumes to my soul. Motherhood is work, and I do not need to make the other projects into work right now. I’m tempted to ambition, to dive deep into the next project, to go and go and go until I reach the boundary of what I can do, simply because I have the energy to do so. I have the energy, but no longer have the time. 

The thing that was a fun hobby then becomes a strain. Other duties call my name: a five-year-old, a toddler, an emerging 6th grader, field and flower. 

After balancing life and projects last week, I thought with satisfaction of letting the weeds go and leaving the blooms to the pollinators. But then a mystery flower was covered in frilly orange faces, the yarrow burst with sunshine, the bunny tails wiggled in the wind. I must collect them. They all move so beautifully together.

This hobby takes effort, but the effort is sweet. Its work balances my duties within the home. It draws me outside, into the wind, the sun and the dirt. I pause and contemplate. My senses spring to respond to the stimuli nearby. Pathways in my brain flicker with excitement as I draw relationships from color theory. 

I cut, I clean, I arrange. 

And my home is filled with flowers.

The woman who placed the special order listened to my gardening story, that story that begins in sadness and grief, but grew a garden. “You’ll always have this as the gift she left you, your love of gardening,” she said.

Many days of motherhood are filled with laughter and tears. To find the fruit of both, I go out to the garden.

Would that we all could find the hobby that energizes us, that balances us, that helps us find a central space around which we can pivot, flexing our muscles and growing in virtue is ways that pour over into all aspects of our life. This gift is not something only I can receive because of some privilege. It is available to everyone. And its path takes us through, not just the garden, but the good life.

What to Do with the in-between season

As I write this, it is the first day of Spring.

From the white board in front of our makeshift homeschool classroom, I can erase the word “Winter” from the combination “Winter/Spring”. We live in a form of winter/spring for a handful of months in the Central Valley. The weather warms, but might still freeze. The temperatures reach up near 70, inching bit by bit, because a cold spell and a day of rain makes us all remark how like winter it is in March.

Purple iris

Other states sit covered in snow, waiting for the flowers to poke through the icy layers, signaling the end of a long winter will not be too far off.

Californians start their seedlings, but plant them also, seeing the first fruits in their open fields. Farmers carry in boxes of citrus, as sweet as candy, while we smell the sweetly scented air filled with almond blossoms and pollen.

Landscape with cut flower garden and seedlings

It is winter/spring here in California when the mud puddles merge together with puddles from misdirected sprinklers, their timers signaled too soon in preparation for dryer spells. Children shed their winter clothes for lighter garments, only to shiver once the sun goes down because the mornings are below 50, the coldest temperature we generally see.

It is winter/spring as our loved ones receive the vaccine alongside the safety, hope and peace it brings to know they can gather again with loved ones will still following CDC guidance; as some of our youth return to schools and sports and order special masks and bell covers to play their preferred instrument with the victorious spirit of a high schooler who has faced something no generation before ever faced.

It is winter/spring as liturgically-focused Christian religions move through the Lenten season, with just a shot time remaining before Easter, the highest of holy days, the more triumphant, grandest, important celebration to the heart of Christian belief. To enter the church that Sunday, the church they could not enter one liturgical year ago, when doors were closed and services live-streamed and Easter egg hunts canceled.

It is winter/spring as we gather with others in small numbers or shop for plastic eggs at Target while still wearing masks, keeping our distance and trying not to make physical contact with someone we do not know, when once a handshake might have been the best approach.

It is winter/spring as my daughter bends the top line of the growth chart, yet never sleeps. As my son outgrows another size of clothes, but has surgery next month. As my oldest learns Latin but will go into 6th grade, signaling to me the beginning of the end of her children and her emergence in a new phase of life, one I have never experienced before as a mother.

The weeds grow with the new flowers. The dahlias emerge even where the cats scratched. The rain waters the fields even as it inspires the weeds to give it one last go before the vegetable garden is planted.

Detail of cut flower garden with white garden bench

All of our lives we live in this winter/spring, with the bare ground filled to the brim with seeds and life waiting for just the right amount of daylight, warmth and water to break forth. In this season all the potential is there. We have only to wait a little longer, tend the ground a little more gently, and continue to feed the heart and soul of the project with the very best we have, the practice of virtues, including kindness, understanding and justice determined by reason and not emotion.

Understand and embrace the duality in which we must live, the tension to which we must adjust. Even as today is the first day of spring, a chill is in the air. Nothing ever fully ends or disappears, and the beauty that lies in wait for us lies within this tension.

Discover it. Embrace it. See what is has for you today.

Pink and purple early spring bouquet