Friday, March 24, 2006

Green Children

I'm not exactly sure how to identify what follows. To read on in the spirit of exploration, know that the following is written from my fall 2003 perspective (first year of marriage, first apartment, and, more importantly, first garden ...).

Like myself, my first children arrived in March. Looking down at them now, their branches bowing under their ripening weight, thickening together, green through the sun’s steady warmth—these unruly creatures bear no relationship to the sweet brown seeds carefully tucked into flimsy plastic trays and lovingly carried outdoors on the days Spring chose to trail her warmth along the soil, stirring their pale souls toward the light. In the beginning, when we planted our garden, we worried over our sprouting family, Nick more than myself. He cradled the trays as he moved them about the yard, seeking the sun with a visionary faith in our vegetable family. We figured that if the plants lived, we might qualify for a cat by winter and eventually, human children.

Those days seem distant now, hidden behind April’s morning mists and my faulty memory. It is really quite difficult to believe that at one time we cared for one hundred and twenty-eight tomato-ettes. One hundred and twenty-eight. It is slightly more incredible that forty-five survived that early treatment, the constant sway between yard and house. And to tell you the truth, looking about now, it seems nearly ridiculous that every single one of those forty-five plants chose to fulfill its divine destiny and multiply and replenish the earth. There are, after all, limitations, decency.

Today, like every other day this slow September, I head outdoors and greet my green children. The blue-toned light of my office computer and the sharp spines of my still-new school books (my first love) fade and are forgotten. I have work to do. I wade into my garden. The tomatoes greet me, verdant ropes into which I thrust my bared feet, toes splayed to grip the cool soil between wide stalks and ever-present branches. When they were still young and pliant, we thought to tie them up or train them through wire cages. However, we being young ourselves, and young together, thought better of it. (This was not due to any youthful ideals, but rather to the more immediate presence of our monthly electric bill.) As our plants matured we felt the error of our ways as their teenage growth outstripped our expectations and left us with a vibrant mass of heavy greenery that requires both caution and ingenuity when approached.

I weave my way toward the center of my garden. I am hunting a cluster of Pink Brandywines sighted earlier this week. (Pink Brandywines grow large and soft and often split their pale skins. Their flavor—.) I stalk my food through a delicately immobile jungle that purposely conceals its fruits. These are rebellious plants, and they have it in for me, their mother.

I pause.

Afternoon light hangs pink against the wooden fence and everywhere I look I see the twisting of green branches, the folding of green leaves. My arms start to yellow below the elbows and by the time my skin rounds expectant fingertips that shade shifts into a familiar (familial) green green green so green it’s nearly black. My fingers, stalk-like, feel blindly amongst the leaves, searching. I glance out over our garden: carrots, onions, lettuce, cucumbers—these are all manageable and cooperative plants. They produce enough to eat, stay more or less where they’re told, and generally enjoy being picked at. My eyes lower to my unreasonably fertile tomatoes, the plants with which I spend my time and which therefore hold some type of proprietary claim upon me. I suppose there are worse things to be claimed by.

I find my Pink Brandywines huddled together along a slender strand called to bear an inordinate burden that has quite naturally strained it toward the earth in humble submission. Pushing aside green leaves exposes the deep dankness of the inner sanctum. I startle back at the vision: tomatoes, everywhere. Pressed against the earth, folded between branching arms, heaving upward through entangled tendrils still seeking the light—pink, white, yellow, orange, overripe red. I cannot conceive of a time when we will not be eating tomatoes. The blatant fecundity of this plant, of every plant in my garden, every plant I cannot escape, that grasps my toe and bends my knee, constitutes an overwhelmingly reproductive force: it appears both incredibly absurd (who in the whole world would ever need so many tomatoes? what need would drive my children to such excess and abandon?) and strangely holy, sacrificial.

I cannot blame them for their enthusiasm. Their insistence on living, on passing the possibility of life to others, turns my mind in my garden toward another image of absurd overabundance that I have yet to fully comprehend: outside my garden, in other rooms, I call this gift grace, and give thanks.

10 comments:

Nick said...

I knew you could write analytically and persuasively (often above my ability to understand- think master's thesis), but I never knew you could write so beautifully. How did you keep this from me for 4.5 years?

Jenny said...

Thanks Nick--it's nice to know I still have some mystery about me :) One of the ways I try to understand my past (and what it could mean for my present/future self) is through the cultivation of an aesthetic relationship between my physical and mental experiences. There is something about the process of forcing oneself to consider mundane events aesthetically that is akin to revelation for me--insight into the oridnary wrought through language. But you're right, I don't usually share my aesthetic writing with others. I'm not sure why I posted this, other than it's been something I've been mulling over with an ever-increasing frequency since Lucy's birth. But I have yet to work out that relationship ...

Jared said...

I was already wanting to start a garden, but now I REALLY want to. It's going to be a challenge in my sister's yard, though. We're going to have to terrace the slope in her backyard. I guess I'll have to get to work pretty soon if we're going to get seeds in this year...

erin said...

I loved this piece you wrote, too, Jenny. I love how God shares his Godness with us...maybe it's not even something He can control, since we're children of God, and have "Godness" in us. A couple of the ways that I think this really comes out is in creation and in proxy work. I love the way temple work is a way that we become a real part of the plan by actually doing some of the work, and I love that we are also made part of the creation process, both through parenthood and cultivation. It really awes me sometimes at the power or the magic or the majesty of Godness and our part in it.

Jenny said...

Jared--the key to having a big, bountiful garden is to marry Nick. He'd have that yard terraced in a second! In fact, he's already planted our lettuce. I potted some pansies yesterday. That's an improvement over last year, when I was gardeningly pathetic (I was growing a baby instead). PS--I'm sorry Nick is already taken.

Erin--thanks for your comments--I really liked the image of God not being able to help his sharing of goodness with us and the ties you made between creation and the temple. I think that's part of the reason the temple tells us what it does: to emphasize the act(s) of creation that surround our own creation, our mortal lives, and our exhalted potential.

Julie said...

peace and beauty - you brought a restful moment into my day - and you reminded me of Annie Dillard

Jenny said...

Thank you Julie--I love Annie's work (and love finding someone else who has read her!), especially her ability to reveal the sacred in nature.

Jared said...

Who is Annie Dillard? I've never heard of her before. Could you recommend one or more of her books to an Annie Dillard novice?

Julie said...

Annie Dillard writes very poetically about her experiences and nature. Even for those of us who don't see as deeply into books as Jenny, she is enjoyable. I think I started out with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but I know Jenny has read a lot more of her.

Jenny said...

I think Julie gave an apt description of Dillard (although I hesitate to think of myself as reading her "deeply"--my freshman english teacher introduced her to me and I read her works as part of the growing up at college experience, which is why I still feel fondly for her even today). Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a good place to start if you're looking for a longer, more involved set of essays that all tie together (she won a Pulitzer for it). For a group of shorter essays, try Teaching a Stone to Talk. My favorites are probably For the Time Being (think of the themes of clouds, sand, China, Teilhard de Chardin, Israel, and a consideration of the implications of birth defects all woven together) and Holy the Firm, which really ought to be required reading for every human being at some point in their lives. Ok, I'll get off my Annie Dillard soapbox now. (By the way, I'm not a fan of everything she's ever written, and find most of her more recent attempts, with the exception of For the Time Being to be just ok [I didn't even finish her novel she put out a few years back]. But the stuff she wrote well really can be amazing.)