This summer, my garden has flourished like never before. Perhaps yours has, too. I’ve heard many people say the same. Maybe it was only the warm winter and wet spring, but it seems to me as if nature were beckoning me to an enchanted, ornate, and revelrous state of being. Raspberry bushes dance over one another like children playing leapfrog. Flowers and herbs I never planted have taken up residence in my beds, a gift of color and charm, delicate and all the more wondrous because they were unbidden. The air is filled with dragonflies who stay still in midair right in front of my face, giant bees who lead me to the most buxom blossoms, and frenetic chipmunks who race past my feet on their way to their cozy homes in my stone wall.
This follows a winter of reverberating change. Close friends have died, one unexpectedly, another after a long struggle, and both teaching me lessons about the transience of life and the importance of relationship. The new pill organizing box in my dresser drawer ensures that I can no longer deny my stage of life has long since left “maiden” and is just barely hanging onto “mother.” My child is making his own way in the world and I couldn’t obsessively check his grades online anymore even if I wanted to. I find myself slowly making my way towards a new state of being that I cannot yet define.
I find myself wanting certainty, not just as sanctuary from the anxieties of transition, but so that I know that what I do and believe in makes sense now that I’ve finally determined that I’m not immortal. I want to make more landings on my journeys and see where I’ve been and where I’m going without a lot of excess spiritual décor and decorum in my way.
In a world I find myself trying to make stark, hermitlike, and seedly intense, my garden has called in the fairy brigade to soften the glare, make barren gray shine fuschia and lime, and make me laugh. But, now that I have eyes that look more clearly, I also see in my garden the spiritual truths I have been seeking so long and that I truly need at this moment of my life.
In my garden I find that kindness reigns. The raspberry canes shade the birds as they feast on the berries. The parsley sacrifices its leaves to the rabbits’ hunger. The trees’ branches always seem to fall away from our home and the homes of the creatures who dwell on our land. Just as I and all people grow when we share kindness, so does life in my garden depend on it.
As I weed, I realize that we are all part of one another and essential to each other’s well being. I only need look in my own garden at trilliums, those delightful woodland plants with three leaves and an array of blooms to find this to be true. Apparently, without ants, trilliums could not spread. Their seeds contain an outer coating that is not only perfect food for ant larvae, but must be removed for the seed to grow. Ants take the seeds to their nests, feed the outer coating to their kids, then toss the seeds onto the ant garbage pile, sometimes far from where they originally were dropped by the plant. From those seeds a new trillium colony grows. When I think that I would never be surprised by a trillium patch in the woods again if an ecological disaster were to happen to ants, I realize that all life truly is a web of being.
In my garden, life is an endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Wrapping around my granite posts is a grapevine originally planted over 100 years ago. About 20 years ago, it disappeared, dead after all those decades, we assumed. Then, one day two years ago, it reappeared. No matter how harsh, mild, or wet the winter, spring always comes, followed by summer, fall, and winter again. How liberating it is to enjoy the present moment knowing that it is part of a eternal process of which I was a part. While I may not survive in my current form through death and rebirth, part of me will live on in the next generation and the ones after that. And, how much more meaningful is it to see oneself as part of an endless chain of being, rather than one human being living one life and then disappearing forever?
All life is sacred in my small eighth-of-an-acre suburban wilderness. In it are maple trees with trunks a yard in diameter and tiny sweet woodruff, each with its own use and place. Plants I once thought of as weeds I now know are healers and have an honored corner. Without the insects, the plants would not bloom. Without the birds, the seeds of my Jerusalem artichokes would never have arrived from some far-off meadow. How often are women told all over the world that their souls are less than men’s, and after how many repetitions do they come to accept that? How many ways are my friends and family pre-judged by others based on who they love or how they look or what they do for a living? Not in my garden. Like the maple trees and sweet woodruff, in nature everyone is divine.
The most important truth I see in my garden is that the universe is love embodied. Despite the trials, hardships and violence that are inherent in some aspects of nature, I find it impossible to believe that all beings are not loved when each spring my sweet william blooms all over the garden, no matter how undeserving I may be of its fragrance and subtle violet and pink hues, each fall leaves in brilliant colors light up the sky and the soil as if the sun herself had come down to play, and in winter, tiny crystals transform the garden into a diamond realm. Nature is generous and abundant with her fertility and beauty, and blesses us as often as She can no matter who we are or what we have done.
What does it mean to root my spiritual beliefs in nature, like so many hundreds of plants in my garden sending their roots down into the soil?
When I base my spiritual beliefs on nature I know they are sure. The law of the universe is the law of the universe. I know what I believe to be true because I see it everyday in my daily life.
When I find my truth in nature, I have a link to generations before and after who also believed what they experienced in nature. I will never know how Kali’s cycle of birth, death, and rebirth was envisioned by those who carved her statues in Indian temples, but I know that when I look up at the moon and see the endless round of new moon, full moon, dark moon, so did those carvers so many millennia ago. No matter how long I live, these beliefs tie me to all those who come before and after. These truths will always reappear because they will always be true.
I know that these truths are eternal. Long after the Earth no longer spins on her axis, the truths will still ring throughout the universe. In them, I find immortality.
The truths I find in nature are the ones I need to make the center of my spiritual universe and express at this time of my life. I can no longer be told what to believe or that I should believe anything I can’t confirm with my own eyes every day. No matter how complex, chaotic, and full of non-utilitarian beauty it may be, my small, suburban garden holds the essence of the universe’s most basic truths. How wonderful that I need only take a walk there to begin.