Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Rhythms of Care

or Food and Drink

Work, and of the best sort. 

Yesterday:  a few minutes watering seedlings in the micro-garden; a trip to the hardware store for concrete blocks, rebar, and bamboo poles; an afternoon spent chatting with the neighbors and turning my purchases into a stand for the rain barrel, stakes for the Lady Banks rose (trust me, she would eat a fancy trellis for lunch), and supports for the "Coronation Gold" yarrow, which otherwise will give way to the first windstorm (and every windstorm thereafter).  —An afternoon to water all the beds, as the 0.11 inches of moisture we've received so far this year can't kick-start spring in a young garden; a few more minutes to empty the pots of perennials that didn't survive our once-in-fifty-years cold spell.

Today:  more of the same only better, in 55°F morning temperatures, in a sheltered, walled garden that warms to tank-top comfort levels.  The tasks:  cleaning and filling the bird and bug baths (setting some dried navy beans to soak); moving the "volunteer" feverfew seedlings to containers, where their blossoms will attract beneficial insects for weeks in mid-summer (taking a few moments' rest in the Adirondack chair); watering the seedlings in the micro-garden again (ducking inside for a glass of water); dividing the "Moonshine" yarrow and moving the divisions to a sunnier bed, out of the growing desert olive trees' shade (lying down for an hour's bedrest); moving the Keller's yarrow from the sand cherries' shade to the sunny, more-or-less native bed (putting the beans on to cook); working coffee grounds and tea leaves into our alkaline, "decomposed granite" soil (harvesting tarragon and garlic chives).  Resting, before the white bean salad with Shannon's citrus-tarragon vinaigrette goes on the table.

This weekend, I've been thinking about the rhythms of care—the seasonal care we give to the garden, the daily care; the sometimes competing, sometimes complementary care we give to ourselves; and the sometimes out-of-the-blue priority we give to a work ethic that may or may not be helpful.  It's been disconcerting to remember the extent to which need (the yarrows, in too much shade; a thirsty human) can end up competing with function (the garden could use some filler here; I still have this one task left to finish...).  How do we balance them—work and care? the drive to accomplish something right away and the natural rhythms of growth, of need?  Somehow or other we do, and things either work out or they don't.  For the most part, only small things hinge on our decisions—one human, one garden, a handful of plants, perhaps a few bees; things that matter in a small sphere, that may accumulate to have a wider effect, but that don't (with an ironic bow in the direction of chaos theory) affect the world at large.

From time to time, however, something mammoth interrupts the easy seasonal rhythm of care, reminds us of the world beyond our garden walls, shouts that other gardens need tending, that other humans need the food and drink of compassion.  While our kindred in Japan have a strong and resilient system to cope with natural disasters, the recent tsunami reminds us all how fragile our security really is, how great a leveler nature can be.  I haven't researched the organizations that exist internationally to contribute toward disaster relief, but in the USA, is a starting-point directory of NGOs; other longstanding charitable organizations are accepting contributions as well, of course.

Sometimes care extends beyond our garden walls, and giving becomes our work—work of the very best sort.


  1. They are comparing this, to clearing up after WWII. I look at those pictures with despair, and wonder ... where do you start? Where could you start? What can they do with all the debris?? And yet ... we have, we do, we will. Heard a Red Cross spokesman in northern Japan, saying people are coming to the hospital - just for the comfort of a hot drink.

  2. A beautiful, thoughtful post Stacy! I like how you built the story up to this tragedy and how we care for others on our shared earth. You start within the micro and move out into the macro world with grace. Some seem so unfairly to carry heavier loads . . . it is up to those that care to carry a bit more for them . . . this caring may manifest in many ways.

  3. I find that overlooking something that I should have considering in caring for the plant really pulls at my heart. If I make a mistake that keeps the plants from growing to their full potential, I can sometimes get really sad about it. Of course it's unreasonable to try and farm without expecting tragedies.

  4. This post really hit home for me, as for the last several weeks I've been out of my normal rhythm. My brother was diagnosed with brain cancer and that has dominated so much of my thought and my time. And with the news from Japan ordinary daily chores seemed so insignificant. My husband works for the Red Cross, making me even more aware. But that rhythm of care in the garden gives me solace in times like this when I feel helpless. It reminds me of the ability of the earth to heal itself with time and the help of good stewards. I read recently that the origin of the word compassion is suffering. To have compassion is to suffer with. We carry the suffering of the victims of tragedy in our hearts.

  5. Diana, I was wondering too about where they will put all the debris - how do you dispose of whole cities? In a way, such a clean sweep might be a little easier, rather than trying to pick over what might be salvageable. I'm so impressed with how they're coping, with the quickness of the response and now the move to get on with things. Some lessons to learn there.

    Carol, thank you. It's such a different situation than, say, the Pakistan floods, because the country is so much better equipped to deal with it, but still - no one should have to stand up against a natural disaster like that alone!

    FFD - It can be heart-wrenching to see plants under our care fail, but you're right - sometimes they don't thrive due to circumstances beyond our control.

  6. Ginny, I'm so sorry about your brother - what a frightening, terrible thing! I hope his treatment is going well and that you have hope for his healing. Have you discovered Susan J. Tweit's blog Walking Nature Home? Susan's husband has been working through brain cancer for the last year and a half or so. It doesn't make for easy reading, but her approach is honest and uplifting - you might find it encouraging and/or comforting. (Sorry - without fail, we hear that someone is in crisis and come forth with suggestions, whether asked for or not!)

    Thank you for that definition of compassion - yes, I see it now, in the root words. We experience suffering with the sufferers, to the extent that our imaginations allow us.

    Gardens are such incredible sources of solace, respite, perspective, healing - I hope yours is offering you all of that these days.

  7. I'm impressed by the way you so carefully work with those plants that obviously are a significant part of your life. I sometimes wish that I could find such a focus in my life. As for Japan, it is a resourceful country full of good people, with all of us working together, we can achieve a type of normality, hopefully with a little more undrestanding

  8. Midnight Shadow, thanks for your visit and comment. I think that working with plants (or nature in general) is one of the most wholesome, beautiful things anyone can do. And yes, Japan's resourcefulness, both in preparing for disaster and in coping with it, has been extraordinary. When in such a crisis, though, we can all use a few extra resources - if nothing else, just the sense of having shoulders to lean on, until we're ready to walk alone.

  9. Stacy,
    You are a gifted writer. Thank you for your words and the blessings they extend.

    I too, have been thinking about Japan and its people and the connections between people and nature. My heart cries for them all.

    I'm so glad you were able to spend time in your garden. We are still so WET here that one cant even be out. And its cold this morning with temps in the mid 30's.

    Blessings to you always,

  10. Elaine, thank you.

    The one thing we almost never have to worry about Albuquerque being is wet... :) Hope things dry out for you soon so that you can get outside, too!