Friday, October 3, 2008

Finding comfort in the garden

Driving home from Denver on Wednesday afternoon following Richard's second round of surgery for his "beautiful carcinoma" (the tumor that revealed his bladder cancer), I was numb, so exhausted after nearly eleven hours at the hospital the previous day that I couldn't even get excited about the good news: his surgeon reported no sign of tumor regrowth, meaning July's surgery may have removed the entire carcinoma. I knew that was good news, I knew I should feel relieved, but I couldn't. I just didn't have relief in me.

The weather was blue-sky balmy, the aspens were glowing in the shafts of light slanting through the gathering cumulus clouds, and the dotted mosaic of shrubs, the wild roses, currants, sumac, raspberries, chokecherries, and thickets of shrub oak had tossed off their summer green pigments, revealing the season's accumulation of sugar-synthesized colors in burnt gold, scarlet, rust, crimson, lemon yellow, burgundy, bronze, and orange.

This has been the most glorious fall for leaf color in recent memory, and our route home took us through some of the classic leaf-peeper drives at the height of the season. And I didn't care. Oh, I went through the motions. I looked, I exclaimed; I pointed to particularly picture-postcard perfect mountainsides. But I couldn't muster the energy stop the car, get out and collect a few leaves, listen to the sounds and sniff the smells, compose and shoot a few photos. I just wanted to get home to my garden.

I usually spend our two-and-a-half-hour commute to and from the urban part of Colorado delighting the wildness: watching eagerly for red-tailed hawks and golden eagles spiraling high overhead on long wings, scanning for antelope, prairie dogs, and migrating long-billed curlews in the high-elevation prairie, and searching for bighorn sheep on the rocky cliffs and wildflowers the whole way.

Not Wednesday afternoon though. I just wanted to get home to the reclaimed piece of industrial property near downtown in the small town where we live, unload the car, put away the groceries, and go outside to the kitchen garden. I needed the company of the plants I've nurtured from tiny seed to sprawling adult, the lives I tend every day and whose leaves, seeds and fruits nurture us in our daily meals.

As I moved among them, watering the sun-dried soil, discovering that the deer gate had blown open in the prints in the gravel path and the downed tomatoes that bore the unmistakable marks of mule deer teeth, finding a striped Romanesco squash ready to pick, a golden beam of pumpkin nestled among dark leaves, and sweet strawberries, I began to settle. I don't know what it is about the company of the plants that calms me, but it does. It as if being at home in my garden returns me to myself, slides my fretting mind back into the familiar case of my brain, my troubled emotions back into the soothing pulse of respiration and heart-beat, and returns my restless spirit to the comforting embrace of muscle and and skin. Back at home with my plants, I am once again at home in me too.

As I watered, Richard came outside with a bowl to help harvest. We picked up half-eaten tomatoes, plucked more ripe ones from the vines, gathered strawberries and squash, and went inside, holding hands. I took a deep breath, and let the air out slowly, feeling myself relax. I smiled.

Home at last in the familiar community of our own landscape - and best of all, home together.


eduardo said...

Silly you. You say you don't know why time in the garden does such wonders to your frazzled innards, when before and after you give such exquisite details telling why. Read what you wrote, and you'll have your answer.
Then, you DID mention being spent and not your usual self....
Bienvenidos a querencia, hermana.

eduardo said...

Silly you. You say you don't know why time in your garden grants such gracious solidity, when the rest of your posting is exquisite rendering of that very subject.
Then, you DID mention being not your usual self....
Bienvenidos a querencia, hermana.

About Bobbi C. said...

Susan, SO glad to hear the good news about your beloved. It's been so hot here this summer and I've spent less time outside than I normally do. I almost forgot how nourishing the garden can be in times of stress and worry.

Thanks for the reminder.


bobbi c.

©Hotbutton Press said...

Nature is so big and so wonderful without our help. That little bit of garden we nurture, well, it's where we have a bigger part... maybe a little more control and that's comforting, isn't it? You've paid a big emotional price nurturing and loving Richard through this. On top of that, the work of a book tour. Relief from all that stress will come with time.

I missed your signing in COS! Hope it went well.



Anonymous said...

Susan and Richard,
What good news, but I understand the feeling that came over you, Susan. That you can find solace with your beloved plants and home spaces is a blessing. Have a wonderful fall. We'll soon be in Colorado, but afraid we'll miss the glorious colors.

Susan Tomlinson said...

Amen to all of it.

My Mother's Garden said...

There is much beauty in your words and experiences!

Blessings to you and your family~