Weeding my own garden beds doesn’t beckon me. I suppose my habit of allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the prospect of what seems an insurmountable task lies at the heart of what sometimes feels like dread. There really is no beginning and no end to weeding. Yet, what have I volunteered for in the gardens of a historic landmark an hour’s drive north of Santa Fe? I’ve been crouched, on my knees, and seated Indian style for the last couple of weeks, for three or so hours each Wednesday, removing deep-rooted grass from among the irises and peonies. It’s been quiet, solitary work, carried out under clear skies in temperatures hanging below 70 degrees early in the day. I picked a good time of the year to start this project.
Digging in the dirt—feeling the shovel sink into the ground, turning over the soil and releasing the smell of earth—this satisfies me. Foot by foot, yard by yard, things take shape, the aim clearer. Earlier this week I marked my starting place with one of the tools that had been set out for me by the gardener. It was a tool I wouldn’t need for removing grass, and I wondered why he didn’t know this. As I made my way, I stopped periodically to measure mentally how far I had come. Nearing completion of the task, I skipped to the end of the bed, cleaning just enough to clearly mark what remained of my work—only about 5 feet. My body smiled.
It’s amazing how the context—the ownership, the weather, the perceived size—of responsibility owned or volunteered for changes everything. I carve out three or four early morning hours each Wednesday—add another two for the drive both ways to Abiquiu—where I dig in solitude. I stop periodically to admire the change and take in the surroundings of this historic home and landscape. As I work at a task I begrudge in my own garden, I realize that it’s not so much the work as it is the choice. Given the absence of beginning and end, here I have chosen to paint this landscape one morning each week, allowing myself to luxuriate in small accomplishments. This satisfies me, especially when I consider that I am giving of my time, talents, and resources. I am enhancing the beauty of parts of a garden that otherwise go untended.
And so it should be with my own garden in Texas. Here in northern New Mexico we have started to feel like autumn. The colors, the sky, the air have all taken to late summer. In July I made a hurried trip to Texas to be with my family during a time of loss. This summer in particular has been brutal in the Lone Star State—consistent triple-digit temperatures starting early in June, and no rain to speak of. While there in mid July I did my best to give frequent badly needed drinks of water to trees and shrubs. In that landscape laid evidence of things that had lost the battle with drought. Amazingly, however, along with making the 135-mile trip each way to Houston for family gatherings on three different occasions over a two-week period, I remained diligent early most mornings with the water hoses and a three-gallon bucket. Weeds, and grass in unwanted places—I saw them. They didn’t even matter. Yes, they had prospered when nothing else could. Trees and shrubs that were in decline or clearly struggling from neglect responded to my efforts by producing tiny new leaves.
Tomorrow I head back to Texas for responsibilities there that still own me—at least, as much as I allow such ownership. I will exchange high plateau air for the palpable heaviness of life at lower elevations—7000 feet for 375 feet. I am making preparations. Yesterday I went to the mountains, where in the middle of the day the temperature delighted at 54 degrees. I sat beside the noisy stream that tumbles down through Big Tesuque, allowing myself to be transported by sound, sight and smell. It was no storybook smell, but rather one of life moving on water. I am grateful for choices.
Choices—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 30, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis