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Cultivate your garden

Maine Lupines - Patricia Shea

When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands. Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Man the Reformer,” a lecture read before the Mechanics Apprentices’ Library Association, Boston, January 25, 1841.)

This morning, I walked out into the newly planted garden at our newly rehabbed house in Rockport, Maine, and paused, spying a squirrel, yawing mouth full of nut, who was going from plant to plant in search of the perfect home for his chestnut. Ahh, I thought he’s squirreling away something, creating a stash for the winter. Pulled into the squirrel’s world, I abandoned, for a moment, my concerns about the falling-apart world around us: hoards of starving people; over-population; ice caps melting; polar bears dying; environmental disasters; wildly gyrating stock markets; massive unemployment; the NBA lockout; the Greeks! The national debt! Ruthless dictators! A polarized society; a deadlocked Congress! Is it a function of age that I am more concerned--my sense of mortality causing me to ponder the world I will leave behind? Rather than going inside and saying the Metta Prayer 21 times (I’d done that already), I stayed my attention on the squirrel and my garden. How soothing it was to be among the flowers; to inhale their fragrance; to wonder at the bees; to observe the ways of the squirrels. As I quieted my mind, the last line of Candide floated

into my consciousness and (after silently offering thanks to my parents for my excellent liberal arts education), I smiled. Voltaire, speaking as Candide, whispered, “We must cultivate our garden.” Or, let’s abandon the cares of the world and turn our attention to what is before us. The final words of wisdom, the final line of the book, from a man who has seen many continents, much calamity and gnashing of teeth, has found and lost love, friends, gold, and returned home to buy a farm, live in community and begin a pastoral existence.

How like writing this is – cultivating our own words, sowing each word in a line on a page, shutting out, for a moment, the cares of the world. And how much more satisfying this farming of words is than paying attention to the world’s woes. Many authors have been gardeners. May Sarton, the American poet and novelist who lived in New England in her youth, as well as in her final years, says, “Gardening gives me back a sense of proportion about everything.” And Walt Whitman, “Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.” Listen to how poetic Nathaniel Hawthorne sounds when talking about his garden at the The Old Manse, his residence on the banks of the Concord River, “ I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.” I think of the expression “It’s nothing but a hill of beans” and marvel how a writer can change an ordinary bean into a line of poetry.

So, writers, I propose you cultivate your gardens, whatever form that might take.

Exercise: Choose five verbs, five nouns, five adjectives, five adverbs* from the

world of gardening, and create a short poem out of them.

Here’s a possible list:

Verbs: Cultivate, water, plant, nourish, turn over, mulch, splash, sprinkle, feed,

dig, hybridize, fertilize, focus, place, sow.

Nouns: Perennial, squash, seed, root, stem, juniper, sunflower, sweet pea, earth,

soil, clay, rosemary.

Adjectives: Ochre, sweet, fragrant, lavender, spicy, woodsy, buttery, orchid-pink,

juicy, crisp, wild.

Adverbs: Mindfully, carefully, artfully, gingerly, sequentially, playfully, seasonally,

gently, deeply, naturally.

*I know I usually rant and rave about the use of adverbs, but they have their

place and it’s fun to sprinkle them sparingly among the rows of words. (Yes, and

that sentence has two adverbs!!)

Patricia Shea



Be Passionate, Be Revealing, Be Different.

I just saw a film called As It Is In Heaven. It is the story of a successful international conductor who interrupts his career and returns alone to his childhood village in the far north of Sweden. Soon after he arrives, he meets the local pastor who invites him to listen to the choir and give him notes; and then our hero asks to conduct the choir. And from that moment on, the village is in an uproar. The conductor is a change agent and all kinds of buried passions, resentments and hostilities emerge. The choir develops and grows. Marriages fall apart. Dogma collapses. And our hero finds love.

What is striking to me about the film is its central theme: We each have a unique voice and it is our job to find it. With help from others. Daniel takes the choir through all kinds of physical and vocal exercises to open the passageway to finding their voices. Little by little, each one finds his or her voice and, inevitably, their lives change. We watch them become more and more alive, cell-by-cell, until their growth threatens their set beliefs, their relationships and their way of life. Growth begets growth. When they decide to go to a choral contest in Innsbruck, Austria, we know something big is up. Many of them have never v

entured beyond their small Northern Swedish town. And, indeed, Innsbruck is a life altering experience, not only for them, but also for all their audience. And for our hero. Do take a look at the film.

And, once again, the theme of voice. I can guarantee that if you are willing to find your true voice, and to express it, your life will change.

Writing Exercise:

Write three pages in your journal, without forethought. Practice Beginner’s Mind – remain open to whatever the universe will deliver to you. Just as Daniel says in the movie, the music is there waiting for us to hear it. So, once written, read your pages aloud. And then see if you can hear the rhythm in them. Turn the words into a melody.