Whispers of air push the tender limbs of the potted hemlock on our deck. To realize the subtlety of the action between the air’s voice and the shrub’s reaction we must sit still, watch, and wait. Everything we see beyond the French doors of our den reveals the results of nature’s power in companionship with our own labor.
In the beginning the acre around our house was an extension of unruly woods that required bush hogging every three months. Like 19th century homesteaders, we slowly pushed back the woods with saws and a maddox. Eventually, disappointments as heavy as mature sugar maples would mangle favorite dogwoods and Japanese maples. Ice storms would splinter giant trees. Termites and fungal rot would destroy the children’s favorite old maple with its swing. Drought would damage a magnolia and kill a birch clump.
The inevitably of these future disappointments did not deter us. The depth of a hole to be dug was an opportunity for exercise. Lack of rain was a conquerable challenge. Weeds were an invitation to exercise providence.
With repetitive order, natural organization, and indubitable rules—durable certainty accompanies gardening.
And we are reminded, as we look out at the whispers in the hemlock, the dancing buff colored balls of bloom on the hydrangeas, and the drooping berries of the nandinas how infinitesimal are our voices in the rampant bramble of politics and social conflict — but also how capable is our steady, plodding influence upon the course of life and social discourse.
Would we replant the crepe myrtle in the shade? No. Would we again allow the aggressive cannas to overtake our vegetable patch? No. Would we indifferently neglect to winterize our roses? Never again.
In the repeated lessons of gardening are the repeated lessons for living well. Begin hopefully, maintain, and correct. Keep what works; toss what doesn’t.
And so it is that we have arrived near the sundown of 2017 with candles, angels, gifts, holly berries, pageantry, and celebrations at a festival of hope, at a ritual of love renewed.
Yes, we are disappointed by uncivil discourse. Yes, we are concerned about errant disregard for our environment and suspicious of the motivations of people in power. BUT we can see in our own little plot, how steady is the inevitable correction of the natural order. We cannot bend the rule of physics or the will of God; we all must be in companionship and obedience with creation and providence. If not, we suffer.
If I hit a rock with my shovel, I must dig elsewhere. If my neighbor objects to my leaves, I must rake more frequently. I cannot buy my way out of wind, drought, or fire. I cannot lie my way through life and be believed: if the tree fell on the truck, it DID indeed fall on the truck.
We honor Christmas for its advent anticipations and Hanukkah for its covenant faith. This is the season to remember the common lessons around us, to stop and notice, and believe, not in schemes, not in sycophants, not in the power of money, and not in disbelief, but in the endowment of love given freely and usefully to all to practice in order to experience an abundant life full of hope and promise.