The Cycles in Our Lives, or Why There Will Always Be Gardeners
The winter wind whips around the heads of a hundred or so nature-lovers gathered both solemnly and joyfully in a grove of trees on the side of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin, California, or, other years, on a hillside overlooking the Berkeley waterfront with its splendid view of the Golden Gate. We circle, burn cedar, place rocks we have brought, greet friends, then cheer on several of our friends who, masked and costumed, enter the circle to speak for the four directions, for grandfather sun and grandmother moon, for coyote the trickster, for fire, wind, earth, and water. We talk about what happened in the world and our lives since our last meeting, and offer hopes that many things will change for the better by the time we next meet. It’s December, and the San Francisco Bay Wakwa Society has called us all here to mark the quickening of the seasons, the time when the winter finally turns to warmer days again.
The cycles of nature in our lives: the first warm days of spring, the long days
of summer heat, the turnabout of autumn, the long nights and the chill of winter — more and more people are returning to an awareness of these cycles. We hold solstice and equinox celebrations. We celebrate the seasonal
holidays of Halloween and May Day. We hold weddings and other
celebrations outdoors in nature.
Maybe because we are so far removed here from the seasons, we have
become acutely aware of the need to be in touch with them.
Some scoff and ask why bother? Who needs to know?
Isn’t this just pre-industrial superstition?
Aren’t we modern city-dwellers beyond all that?
As a gardener, I feel a different response in my bones.
Maybe as children we don’t need to be aware of natural cycles.
Summer can be wonderful and endless, school can be bothersome and endless, when it rains we stay indoors, and when it’s clear and sunny we go to the beach or play outside. Even special holidays and birthdays and vacations have not yet fallen into a familiar pattern.
Maybe as urban dwellers we don’t need to be aware of natural cycles. Food comes from the store, canned and processed; the weather forecast tells us whether to carry an umbrella or wear a jacket; we ride to work in a sheltered metal bubble; concerts and bookstores and movies go on year in and year out no matter the weather.
Maybe as modern people we don’t need to be aware of natural cycles.
Progress carries us ever foward, even sweeps us with it; what is a norm in our day was a vision in our grandparents’; work goes on forty hours a week, fifty or so weeks a year; we can mark time with raises, job changes, marriages, divorces, and children.
But as gardeners we must be aware of our yearly and daily cycles, of the proper time and place for things. Finding bare-root asparagus to plant in midsummer is as impossible (even in our ultra-modern world) as
trying to buy fresh sweet corn in January or cherries in October.
Tomato plants planted in September will not survive to fruit;
trying to gather dried flowers in December is hopeless;
and so it goes in every contact with the earth’s rhythms.
Of course, it’s an unsolvable question whether we become aware of natural cycles because we like to garden or whether we like to garden because it makes us aware of natural cycles. Certainly food can now be purchased from huge agribusiness enterprises, flowers can be bought in flower shops, gardens can be planted with low-maintenance standard plants or even Astroturf or concrete, and we can even live in apartments or condominiums where lawns are watered on timers.
No matter, some of us will always be gardeners. For the freshness of the food, for the joy of spring blooms, for the feel of earth, for the exercise, for the restoration of mistreated land, for the way it gets us back in touch with natural cycles; whatever the reason, some of us will always and forever want to plant and tend and nurture and harvest.
But, of course, there’s more. Becoming aware of the rhythm makes us part of it, grounds us, and gives us a sustenance that doesn’t come easily in this speedy, out-of-balance modern world. A link is reopened that has been closed, and the world becomes a more vital and exciting place.
Watching for the first ladybug in spring, listening for the sound of sweet pea pods bursting like a corkscrew in the hot days of summer, testing an apple to see if it is ripe and nearly ready to fall, noting the first daffodils as they push their way up through the soil in winter — all of these make us feel closer to a vital force that is larger than the unpaid phone bill or the long lines at the supermarket. Then too there is the deep satisfaction of providing for ourselves, of raising foods we like, of gathering our very own flowers to put on the desk of someone to whom we would like to give pleasure.
There are so many reasons for getting in touch with the earth’s rhythms —
not just the practicality of it, but also the contentment it brings. Along with the sound of rain on the roof while sitting in front of a crackling fire, or a bee buzzing from flower to flower, or fresh bread just out of the oven, we should never be living without these things.
How could we ever have believed that we could?
(published in Organic Gardening magazine, May 1989; and in Strawberries in November, by Judith Goldsmith, book published 1987, by Heyday Books.)