Beholden and Beholding
Today is Earth Day. We’ve had a warm spell this week, which meant walks on the beach with our dog and beautiful sunsets. Last night, for me, it meant standing in a friend’s garden and wondering at her native plants like salal and skunk cabbage and Oregon grape and goat’s beard, at her cascara tree and the huckleberry and ocean spray.
This morning the sky is overcast, but it’s still pretty warm. I’m sitting in my cabin. I’ve read my chapters for the day. I’m thinking about a class that I’ll be teaching in Snohomish in May and feeling led to write something about getting unstuck.
The first thought I have is that being unstuck is maybe akin to blooming. Outside my window, the big dogwood is blooming. But the tulips blooming in the yard are looking a little bedraggled. The ornamental apple in our front yard is long past blooming. So blooming isn’t all there is to the process, is it? Gardeners know this, and it’s a lesson I’m trying to learn in my writing. You have to be willing to take every step of the journey. There’s the planting bit, and the waiting, the blooming (of course), but then the dying away of the bloom. There’s green after the bloom. There is fruit (not always the edible sort). There are bees and harvesting and mulch, too. To get the most out of a garden, you have to be present with and for all of it. You have to go out into your garden every day and see what it needs. We always plant a few tomatoes in our front yard, and my husband jokes that each tomato costs about $8. (Probably a low estimate.) But it isn’t just the fruit that gives us pleasure. The journey is worth it.
Steven Pressfield in The War of Art compares making art to having a child, and (yes) I know this can be a tired comparison, but I like what he does with it: “The artist and the mother are vehicles, not originators. They don’t create the new life, they only bear it. This is why birth is such a humbling experience. The new mom weeps in awe at the little miracle in her arms. She knows it came out of her but not from her, through her but not of her” (156).
As an adoptive mom, this goes double for me. When my daughters were born, when I first held them, I knew that I had been granted a front row seat to one of life’s great mysteries. My friend didn’t create the plants in her northwest-native garden. But she has nurtured and arranged and sustained it. She didn’t have to answer this call. (And think of all the parents in the world who neglect or ignore or abuse their children. Think of neglected and abused patches of ground.) Anything, paid close attention, can be one of life’s great mysteries—a garden, or writing.
The wonder isn’t partly in the beholding. It’s all in the beholding.
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