Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Gardeners: optimistic by definition

"It's easier to deal with crises like this in the spring," a friend said today after hearing about my husband Richard's cancer. "It's such an optimistic time."

I puzzled over her remark all day. This evening, I stepped out into the kitchen garden. The wind was blowing hard up the valley, the air temperature was plummeting, and the storms that might have brought us moisture had passed without dropping the rain or snow we sorely need. It's been an extraordinarily spring dry so far. Today marks seven weeks since our last measurable precipitation--and two weeks since the doctor scoping Richard's bladder said cheerfully, "And that's a big carcinoma."

There's nothing optimistic about this spring, I thought with distinct grumpiness.

Then I looked at the asparagus bed--and counted six fat new spears poking up through the dry soil.

Not only is our valley sliding into drought, the season has been bitterly cold too. Last week the nighttime temperatures dipped to 22 degrees F--twice.

And still the asparagus spears are pushing up from their octopus-like skirts of roots a foot deep, headed unerringly toward light and the chance to produce more food and make new life as surely as their kind have done every spring for millions of years.

As I turned to head back into the house, I passed the tomato bed. One of the plants cocooned inside the insulating tepee-shaped walls-o-water caught my eye--a costoluto, for you heritage tomato fans. It boasted half a dozen tiny flower buds, readying itself for the warmer weather and the buzz-pollinating bumblebees it is sure will come.

I shook my head in wonder. That's optimism, I thought.

And then, as if a light had switched on in my brain, I understood my friend's comment. Spring is an optimistic time: here in the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, life awakens from its frozen slumber, and pushed by instincts far more experienced than mine, sprints into the lengthening days, aiming for light and renewal.

I'm a gardener: I should understand optimism. I'm the one who presses tiny tomato seeds into damp soil of seedling pots in early March, when here at 7,000 feet elevation in the Southern Rockies, the days are still short and dark, and the nights long and frozen. I'm the one who watches the rows of pots each day for the first sign of green, exulting when the pairs of slender cotyledons push their way out of the seed. I plant in the belief that spring will come. And it does.

It occurs to me that I can rely on that same optimism that leads me to plant tomatoes in late winter to cope with Richard's cancer. Only in this case, it's not a seed I want to sprout, but a carcinoma I hope will be destroyed. I'm after stopping that growth, not encouraging it. But that's gardening too: cutting off a diseased limb to save the tree it grows from.

The optimism my friend meant, I think, is about believing in the continuing cycle of life. It's not hard to apply that to Richard and his bladder cancer. He's blessed with caring people dealing with him and they're upbeat about his prognosis. So I'll just press my seeds of hope and rejuvenation in the soil of the universe, in the belief that spring will flower for him, time and again.


Janet Grace Riehl said...

"So I'll just press my seeds of hope and rejuvenation in the soil of the universe, in the belief that spring will flower for him, time and again."

Susan, this is nothing less than a prayer.

May the seeds of my hope and rejuvenation pressed into the soil of the universe flower time and again.
--Susan Tweit

May the day be well.
May the night be well.
May all manner of things be well.
--Dame Julian of Norwich

Janet Grace Riehl

Susan J Tweit said...


Thank you for seeing the beauty and intent in my words! One of my resolutions for my work paraphrases a line from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song: I say I will write and speak "with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand." I always shy away from the word prayer because it's been so compromised. But I guess that's what I'm doing in the old sense: sending my intentions out into the universe of the spirit.