Sunday, November 16, 2008

Archetype of the Garden

The Garden is an archetype, it's tied to the archetype of Paradise, lost or not. It turns up in artwork, myth, legend, and story from every culture; that's one way you can tell it's an archetype, from its ubiquity. From a depth psychology viewpoint, the entire environmental movement is perhaps motivated by the Garden archetype, and our desire to return to it, to create it. To re-create it. Gardens flourish in community patches, even on big city rooftops, in public parks, and surrounding private homes.

I have never really understood why an emerald grassy lawn should be considered more beautiful than a garden ramble. A manicured lawn is of course a symbol of the suburban control and domination of nature. And the Garden is always a little wild, a little chaotic, a little overgrown.

I have my own garden now, since I have my own home. I own my home, now. It's a small home, but I was able to pay for it out of my inheritance from mr parents' estates, and have no mortgage. The opportunity to live here arrived suddenly, and inexplicably, as if by magic. Everything fell together synchronistically and quickly. When I first toured what would be come my home, I had that feeling of rightness that real estate agents and homeowners talk about, when you just know you're in the right place, that you're supposed to be here. It was a novel feeling for me; this is the first home I've ever owned. It's small, but it's mine. A place to be, for awhile.

I have lived in or visited the tropic regions of this planet for significant periods of my lifetime. I grew up in India, about 14 degrees north of the Equator. I spent a year in Java, Indonesia, about 6 degrees south of the Equator. (The terms above and below the Equator show a historic Northern bias, which one might note even while using them.) Last summer I was in southernmost Florida. The smells of these places are thick, fertile, fetid, and memory-inducing. Smell-memory of tropical plants gives me childhood flashbacks. I could come to love parts of Florida, the state parks especially, even though this recent trip was a difficult, challenging, and occasionally horrible visit. The problem with Florida, as with so many garden paradises, is human overpopulation. We just don't seem to know how to find a balance, or when to quit.

We live on a Garden planet. A fertile planet. A giving world. Beautiful to the senses and nourishing to the spirit and body, a Garden was our first home. Our biggest problem is that there are too many of us, and we haven't yet learned not to shit where we sleep. Our short-term greed leaves long-term scars. Our greed gets us into trouble that we might not be able to repair. Gaea is good at repairing herself, give enough time; but we don't live at the time-scale anymore, as individuals, tribes, nations, or as a species. Gaea can absorb a great deal of our waste: but not an infinite amount. She is still but one small blue planet among a vast host.

Have we lost the Garden? No angel with a flaming sword could guard those gates nearly as well does our own remorse and guilt. In truth, we exile ourselves from the Garden; no one else is to blame. We made choices that led us to leave the Garden, and go exploring. These were necessary choices, because they led us towards growing up, becoming responsible adults, rather than remaining sequestered and secluded, infantile innocents. But still we want to return. We want to return not as innocents, any longer; but for solace, and perhaps for deeper knowledge of what we once knew, and left behind.

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

—Joni MItchell, Woodstock

The Garden is where we find the Tree of Life, with bees buzzing around its roots, transmitting teachings to the flowers from the soil. The Garden is where the Earth Spirit lives, emerging from below to shape the soil. The breath of Dragons between the hills.

In a dry river bed in a Japanese garden, filled with smooth black stones, small moss fronds make their home. Elsewhere, a thin-bladed maple darkens its leaves in shyness towards dusk.

Shade of the dates in an oasis surrounded by tall sand-dunes: shade that provides cool shelter, the water of life.

Fetid lushness of the mangrove swamp, patiently making land where none was before; then the birds move into their new apartments, and the gators.

On a high mesa in the cold light, a stand of sages moves slowly towards the cliff-edge, clinging, clinging. When they flower, bee-lust, intoxication.

The Garden is too big, in itself and as a topic. I can barely touch on it. I can only offer scattershot images, knowing that each one will find a home, deep down, move in and sit there, humming. (The bees, again.) I have to pull back and look under my own feet; I can't take in the titanic world.

My own small garden, in patches that surround my own small home on all sides, is settling in for the winter. On the north wall, the barest wall, the riverstones under the drainspout—I added a new layer—sit round and mostly smooth and content, waiting for their annual ice-rind. On the west, the wall with the big windows I sit beside when I write, the rosebushes and crocus are mulched. On the south, the side bed banked with flat limestone slabs is ablaze with red leaves on the row of shrubs. In two places, spring bulbs lie waiting.

On the east side, by the front door, the largest flowerbeds lie ready. Planted with spring bulbs, beginning to move before the frost slows them to dormancy, white rootlets are emerging. They're not awake, yet, just stirring before their deeper sleep, under their blanket of cedar chips.

I worked hardest in this part of the Garden, this year, removing some of what was stagnant, waiting till spring to better organize what remains. I removed three slow juniper shrubs that were growing sideways instead of tall, that had become hard and slow and stupid. A hundred flowers will bloom in their place, come spring. I planted mostly perennials, that need little service, and will return in glory each year. They will be in a mix of formal rows and wild tangles. A Garden should always remain half-wild, a little uneven and chaotic, and never be too manicured, too organized. Some parts should always be left to go nuts, frolic in mad reverie, explode in all directions. You can weed and control and organize all the other zones; but always leave one spot imperfect and natural. It's the spirit line, coming back into the weave, in which Gaea's breath moves through. Sun and wind, storm and calm, all are powers greater than ours, to which we must bow.

And I've made a small rock garden. A trail of stones crosses the flower bed, a dry river. Another dry river crosses to the base of the crabapple tree, now leafless but still heavy with late autumn berries the birds haven't discovered yet. I've hung small candle lanterns from the boughs. A circle of stones stands in a cleared circle beneath the tree. This is the start of a more permanent land art sculpture, something I intend to endure, while all other such sculptures, things I feel called to assemble on my travels, are ephemera, only the photos remain. The circle of stones is made with rounded, eroded rocks I found digging in the small garden on the house's west side. Some are green with algae or moss.

A circle of standing stones, menhirs, a henge, something new reflecting something ancient. We have always built stone circles, since long before recorded time. Inukshuk mark the paths across tundra. Stupas in the HImalayas at the high passes. Stonehenge, Brodgar, and the others. I am not done with making the rock garden part of my new home's garden; more will be done come spring. Like the Garden, the stones will rest over winter, dormant, sleeping, perhaps restless in sleep, eager to begin again. Come spring, I have to weed out some thickets of inherited shrubs and flowers; a chore I did not get to this year. A Garden can take many years to emerge, not to create but to manifest: the plants and rocks tell you where they want to be placed, if you listen hard enough. But listening to rocks is slow, and while plants think faster and louder than rocks, you still have to slow down, calm your own heartbeat and bloodflow, to hear them. You must become osmotic, rising sap slow day's climb towards sunsky raincloud heaven. The Garden is always moving towards Heaven. Patiently reaching for the light.

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