lundi 9 février 2009

Facing the truth in the garden

Two and a half hours of soaking rain

I'm raking in the rain
Just raking in the rain
What a miserable feeling
I'm soaked again

I'm swearing at clouds
So dark up above
The sun's in Miami
And I'm in Mousseaux sur Seine

Don't ask what got into me. It works that way. It always does. It's not necessarily good, nor anything to be proud of. I let things go until -- I can't anymore. I am propelled up off the sofa and out under the drenching rain to try and light -- a fire.

Yes. A fire. It failed. All I managed to burn were all the sheets of printer paper I filled with the names of everyone who wanted to be on the list for the MYBO Grassroots Inaugural Ball. They burned spectacularly.

The burning pile is down there since sometime last fall, not burned, and I have bin after bin of leaves I never raked to pile on top. If I were smart, I would compost them. I usually stuff them into the tons of empty topsoil bags I have collected over the years, load them into the front courtyard and let them turn to compost before finally getting grossed-out enough to shove them into the Fiat and take them -- carload after carload -- to the dump. I am sick of myself for that, so I am tossing them into a bin, and taking bin after bin to the burning pile, hoping for a break in the wet, endlessly wet weather before I can't burn anymore to be able to set fire to that mountain.

The neighbor will complain -- the one a few houses down, who has nothing better to do that watch to see if smoke is drifting into her garden still at 5 minutes after noon -- as sure as I am sitting here on the sofa losing feeling in my lower legs, tucked up under me to make a nice pillow for Shadow.

I'll tell you what got into me. Fear and shame. I found the following scribbled on my Wall, "Vivement le printemps qu'on revoie ton 'jardin extraordinaire'."

Yup. That'll do it. That will send me out under the rain to work until my head looks like Medusa's and my leather work-gloves squish, the hood of my L.L. Bean Goretex shell gradually filling with rainwater and trickling down the back of my fleece jacket inside.

I never did my fall work in the garden. There was an election about which I was particularly interested in the outcome. You might recall that. Barack Obama was running against Sarah Palin for president. Oh, sorry, that's John McCain. He was running against John McCain for president, and I got a little carried away, allowing myself to come under the belief that spending all day and a good part of the night emailing was going to make sure that Palin got nowhere nearer to bad old Washington, a city she said she hated, but seemed awfully eager to move to with her family, strangely enough.

Did her daughter ever have her baby, by the way?

Ah, yes. I missed that. Tripp. Wasn't one of Palin's own kids named Tripp? Or was that Twig? Got to go Google again.

Ah, Trig. Got it. It's easy to Tripp over that one.

So, wait, who's holding Trig now while Bristol cradles Tripp and studies her trig by correspondence course to complete her high school diploma? Willow? Wait until she gives birth to Twig.

Ok, so, someone who thinks my garden is nice wrote that and electrocuted me off my couch today. My garden is not ready for anyone to revoir it, not even someone disposed to think kindly of it, and of me. I never raked the fallen leaves, and I never pruned the dead lavender. I never pruned, and I never put down mulch in the beds. It wasn't the election alone. It was also the work on the house, captivating me -- in all my hope for it -- and watching the mess grow on the main terrace, and a serious loss of faith.

I was so proud of my garden. Proud that having known nothing whatsoever about gardening that I had managed so much. Prouder of all the work I had done in it without complaining too much. Proudest of what other people thought about that.

Then, one day about a year and a half ago, my mother-in-law asked that I bring the photobooks that I had made of the history of my work in it. She put the sun in my heart and made it sing, delighting in the photos, as she turned page after page, lingering and catching her breath at the site of a burst of color, a patch of emerald lawn. I felt about 5-years-old in the grandeur of my delight and pride when she handed the book to my father-in-law, seated at the table on the gravel of the terrace outside their house that looks down over the Loir from the hillside where it sits these 150 years, not very old for France, but venerable; "Le Chalet", a 19th century hunting lodge with two floors of bedrooms. I waited for him to pronounce my transformation nothing short of a miracle, handing me a ribbon to hang in my room.

"Les photos mentent," he said, sounding more like a photojournalism critic than a mean person, but that didn't stop me from shattering into fragments, lost in the decorative gravel around his chair. I waited. If I said anything, my voice would have betrayed me. I needed to make him sound as kind as he always intends to be, even when he makes a tiny little mistake. My mother-in-law returned from the kitchen.

"C'est vraiment formidable, ce qu'elle a fait, non?" She asked her husband, fully expecting to hear her own praise returned, taken to a new height, and turned to beam at me. She surely caught the tight expression across my lips and cheeks as I stood there, smiling back, the hollowness of panic in my eyes.

"François vient de remarquer, très justement," I provided, "que les photos ne raccontent pas la vérité du jardin mais ont plutôt tendence à embellir, uh -- à souligner ce qui est le plus beau et à, à éffacer les défauts." Like models in a fashion rag, I thought, watching my father-in-law as I spoke the words, preferring that she hear them from me than he so that I could show her that I was just fine. Really. Her face tightened and rotated towards her husband. He wasn't going to get off so lightly; neither was she convinced of my being perfectly fine, by my generous show of tact.

"Mais, c'est vrai, ce qu'il dit. Les photos sont toujours prises au moment quand le jardin nous montre son meilleur -- une lumière magique, la plénitude de ses couleurs de fleurs, ses verts, les plantes bien taillés, sa proprété. Nous n'y voyons dans ces pages le jardin à son pire, ce qui n'est pas fait ou ce qui n'est pas réussi. " But even if the photos didn't show the truth of the ugly moments, the failures and disappointments, the times when it wasn't groomed for a picture, were they a lie? Were there not true moments of success that made them true? Besides, what I had wanted to make was a beautiful set of books about the garden, not only a beautiful garden.

My bubble rose that afternoon over the terrace in the Val du Loir, and burst.

Anytime I cast my gaze around and it didn't take in but loveliness, when it had to make room for an area untouched, something that was better than it was, but far from what it could be, and as I spent more and more time in my growing collection of garden books, preparing the design for our friends' small city garden that they wanted to look like a corner of a wet meadow, where it joins the woods, paquerettes and all, I saw that he was right. I saw my garden for what it was: better than as awful as it had been allowed to become, but far from right.

It's early February. Spring in our friends' minds means June. I have three and a half months to clean it up, let what's there blossom and bring the pleasure that it can, while I get back to learning how to make it really beautiful. Or trying to improve it, anyway.

Heaven only knows that I'll need something to divert attention from the house, whatever stage it will be in then.

Do not ask.



"Sun it Rises", Fleet Foxes

Thanks, David.

CSN crossed with a celtic band on this one. So pure, I cried.

And, "Blue Ridge Mountains"...


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