Of all the quirky grounds I can think of for escaping to a garden – snooping on box turtles, smelling the rain – never would I have listed escaping a pandemic. More specifically, the noise of the fear.
I am acutely conscious that a universe of microbes with spikes is waiting to get their tenterhooks into me. I know I must be vigilant about washing my hands and touching the mail and holding my breath around suspicious people and keeping track of toilet paper and sanitizer.
Now I am addicted to checking media minutiae, not once, but several times a day. Then I promptly forget the meaningless numbers, or I drop zeros, or maybe add some – which is why I have to check several times a day.
Between tallies, late-breaking sagas explode like curve balls.
Press conferences from the Twilight Zone. . . .Bidding wars on ventilators and masks and whatever else may be profitable for sellers. . . .Cruise ships adrift at sea. . . .Workers furloughed. . . .Velvet gloves for corporations. . . .Clogged sewers. . . .Overworked caregivers in bandanas and plastic garbage bags. . . .Concerned patriots silenced for honesty. . . .Beach parties and barbecues. . . .
Forget the virus, it’s the stock market, stupid. Barely mentioned, but oh so sad, people sick and dying alone. But we soldier on in our isolation, tethered to phantom statistics drained of life blood.
Are we living a mad modern twist to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland without the memorable charm of the original?
In the chill of an early spring morning I walk in my garden. The bleating fades. The world seems reassuringly ordered. Geese are honking (to sweethearts?), wrens are chorusing from fence posts, cardinals are calling out territories with civility, a hairy woodpecker is vigorously attacking our house, and it looks like a beaver has been tackling an 80-foot gum.
The sweet green growth of spring has quietly come round, early, while I have been sidelined by noise. Its breezes are shaking off remnants of winter as, bit by bit they unmask secrets of summer. Kindly, I am invited into a charmed and reassuring circle of seasons that I thought had gone missing.
Dogwood blossoms seem brighter and whiter this year. Red maple leaves redder. Crab apple bouquets showier.
Azaleas flouncy (except for shrubs the deer chewed along paths that we’ve provided).
Japanese snowball, still gawky after ten years of dawdling, is beginning to live up to its teasingly voluptuous promise.
There are surprises everywhere: blooms on a finally-settled-in cherry tree, flower buds on a tired old mock orange I am reviving. And it looks like azalea slips from a neighbor’s overgrown plant will soon show color.
At my feet fresh new leaves of epimedium poke about, before I’ve even thought of nipping last year’s tired, burgundy-blotched foliage.
Amelanchier (Juneberry the colonists called this multi-stemmed native tree) has puffed out a frothy white halo. What berries there will be in June! What feasts for birds.
Shame on lesser celandine, that flashy rowdy. Now I’m bound to teach it some manners.
Daffodils, ahead of schedule, are fading already, will soon need the shears, though the late-blooming, fragrant erlicheer are giving us an early show.
I am fortunate that I can escape to this rambling, casual garden (euphemistic excuses for tardy trimming and tidying). Heaven knows, as I look around, there is enough to do on our green acre to push the noise out of my head for a long stretch.
Which surprises me. After thirty or more years of toil, one would assume a pleasure garden would be shipshape, mature plants in place, weeds banished, gardeners resting on hoes, all ready for pleasure. Once or twice we were almost there. I can remember repeating, like a comforting mantra, Just wait till next year.
But whims of time and weather, like unexpected knocks and bumps in our lives, can crumble rosy plans. Storms fell trees. Late winter blasts maim or kill. Flooding rains leave soggy ground that drowns. Early, unforgiving heat spells shrivel and blight.
The opportunists survive. These are the hardy hardies that grow blithely on into jungles that threaten to swallow house and garden if they are not whacked back, only to rise again after the whacking.
Which is fine. In my isolation I have time and weather on my side. I can get my hands muddy or lean on a shovel while I dream about grand vistas. I can play musical plants till I find soul mates for a patch. I can flit from one corner to another and still feel a sense of control, even mastery.
I work in cinematic slow motion, with cuts and edits and replays, but there is serenity in not having to hurry. Maybe this year will be that next year. And if not, it doesn’t matter so much.
And yes, I feel fortunate. Even when I must leave my sanctuary and wash the good earth off my hands and return to the din of the Hatter’s Mad World, I know my garden will be there for me.
My heart goes out to those on the front lines and those seeing bad times. I hope each of you can find a garden of your own somewhere, a sanctuary that will heal the hurt and restore the heart.