Hands in the dirt therapy


As I bent down to pull some bit of greenery I didn’t want growing in that spot, besides trying to remember to do a stomach crunch, I had loads of time to think. Up and down, moving about the garden. Stopping only to get a different tool, take a drink of water and grabbing a bite to eat when I was really hungry. By about 3pm each day, with my lower back screaming in protest, I would head inside to start dinner.

Three days passed like this. A beautiful respite from my normal routine. No appointments or dreaded meetings to rush off to. No buses to catch. Never caring what time it was. Only honouring the passing of the sun, low in the sky or high. A much simpler existence to be true. Sounds amazing doesn’t it? Except for the back breaking work.

Of course you would get used to it, I suppose. Every muscle in your body, right down to your finger tips, would become stronger. You would have to, otherwise you might not survive. I think that kind of physically demanding work is not for everyone. At one point I wondered if people die of heart attacks, right there in the garden slumped over the early lettuce? I didn’t think anything like that would happen to me, but one never does!

Since I am not cut out for this kind of hard work, I realized why I like it. For short stints of time I am able to practice creative thinking and problem solving with permanence. By manipulating my physical world with rocks, dirt and plants there is an everlasting change. I put the wheels in motion and then mother nature takes it from there. Tiny seeds are transformed into all manner of plants in different shapes and sizes. I like to focus on the results that I can eat, with a few flowers thrown in for good measure.

With my hands in the dirt, transforming the environment to my liking, I looked forward to work on Monday morning. That was a first! Hours whittled away laying in the sun and a whole year spent travelling, not once did I wish for a desk job. But, my thoughts in the garden let me truly appreciate how much easier it is to commute. The building is warm and dry, there is stimulating conversation and most importantly, things get done.

I realized the garden is a never ending process. Work that seems new has been done before. Nature is always in flux. The cycle of the seasons is causing things to grow and die. All the spent material is eventually reabsorbed by the earth. There is a downward pull to everything. Without proper support and maintenance, things just get covered over and disappear. 

Of course the growing climate here on the West Coast of Canada plays a part. If one is not diligent at clearing away anything that has fallen, it is only a matter of time until something new springs to life. Seeds are carried on the wind or recycled by birds so that raspberries will migrate across the garden, just as if I meant them to.

Everything has a cycle. My Japanese maple grew to her maximum size relatively quickly and then everything on the main trunk died one winter. Just never came back in the spring. I cut back all the dead wood and she thanked me by growing back into a wonderful, delicate shape. She did not shoot up into all directions, each sucker competing for my attention like so many other trees. Instead, she is rather well-behaved. In gratitude, I respectfully pulled the weeds from around her base and fed her some compost.

Other trees and shrubs I am not that nice to. If I am not heavy handed with the forsythia, there will be chaos in the garden. That shrub is like a pack of hungry teenagers in your kitchen, eating anything and everything they can get their hands on. Gangly limbs going this way and that. Keeping a defined growing pattern takes dedication with pruning, otherwise the branches which touch the ground will root themselves. Once that happens, there is no hope of regaining control.

We have kept one of the old rosebushes which was part of the original group on the property when we bought it. A walking group of neighborhood women were a little ticked off when we first started moving things around and making our mark in the garden. It is funny how our front yards are somehow open to comments by people passing by. I guess one is asking for a reaction when they pull out all the grass and install a front yard garden, like we did.

Sometimes the working crew is a ‘we’. My Dad helped my husband build a fence and my Mom has spent countless hours alongside me in a vain attempt to keep everything in its proper place. She made me vow never to purposely plant a Himalayan blackberry ever again. That invader species will choke out the life from anything in its path, growing at an astonishingly fast clip. I thought it could live in harmony with my raspberry bushes!

Over the years I have had to make peace with all the plants which choose to grow in my yard. I don’t have enough time in my day to control the space as much as I originally wanted to. Now I have to pretend that this is what I wanted all along. No one can say that is not true. After all this time, I’m a little unclear why it was so important to be so precise. I was probably naïve to the ways of mother nature. 

Now I know. Time in the garden is like going to a therapist for the mind, body and soul. The responses are profound in their long silences. You need to study what is being communicated to understand the benefit. Rush, you cannot. Kind of like learning from the wise old sage Yoda, the garden is a master teacher. In the end, I would take this kind of hands in the dirt therapy, any day.


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