I spent all day yesterday alone in the garden. Finally a killing frost has come in the night and erased all the color from my zinnias and laid low what was left of the tender bits of the summer of 2012. It’s time to deal with the dead. It’s time to cut and rake and prepare the stage for the next show. Time to say goodbye.
My hands are cut and scraped. My muscles feel old this morning and there is a broken blister where the handle of my garden scissors rips away the skin over the joint where the proximal joins the intermediate phalanges of the ring finger of my right hand. It happens every fall. I suppose it could be prevented by gloves, but, they make my hands feel clumsy and rob me of sensitivity and the ability to do the delicate extraction of undesirable vegetation. I put on my rawhide gloves once all the cutting is done for the raking, scraping and lifting of the dead into containers. My mulch pile is enormous. I have two in fact. I will dig into them come spring and mine them for fine soil. I will sift new dirt and stand amazed at what 4 or 5 years of decomposition has produced. You could almost eat it with a spoon. Magnolia leaves can take up to 10 years, but, I digress.
I’ll start again this morning and put in another 6 hours or so. It’s above freezing, so, the minute the sun breaks the horizon it will find me already active. Sunlight, close to the horizontal, does something inside the head of people who love gardens and the way the same color can look so different at different times.
Not that I ever need much prompting, but, fall clean-up always makes me think about death. The old is making way for the new and there are bodies to be disposed of everywhere. You can smell the rot if you take the time to sniff. It’s been one long Sky Burial since life began on Earth and in this universe. One long churning of the soup. The living become the dead and the dead nourish the living. Killing to live and living to kill. I will sit today in the garden and move from place to place cutting and cleaning the dead perennial stalks, stems and leaves back to the ground. I will rake them up along with the spent flower heads and disperse seeds without even trying that will become the individual dabs of color in next years masterpiece, when the warm rains come again.
I’m like the vultures in the photograph above. I’m moving the dead stuff around and turning it into new stuff that doesn’t even remind you of dead stuff anymore. I’m cooking soup and I am an ingredient in the soup, as are we all.
At one point yesterday while sitting in the garden clipping the dead I remember thinking about cannibalism. Somewhere between 35 and 45 million people starved to death in China as a result of Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”. Peasants in the country ate the dead when collectivized farming and miserable planning lead to decreased food production. They must have been really hungry.
If you read Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” you will note that just about every great civilization that bites the dust ends up with a population forced to bite each other when the cupboard is empty.
I understand that Polynesian cannibals used to refer to human meat as “long pig”. I remember reading someplace that the reason pork is considered unclean in many cultures is that it tastes indistinguishable from people meat. People don’t seem to like the idea that they could be eating people meat unless they themselves decide they REALLY have to do it. I wonder if comedians taste funny?
I guess my point is that you really get to experience the tides and the flow of life more intensely the closer you get to the dirt. The farther we remove ourselves from that soil level interface, between the ending and the becoming, the less human we begin to feel I think. The connection is broken and we fail to see our place in it all. We become and see each other as simply one of the things in a sea of unrelated things. We can’t see it all as clearly anymore. That causes us to make mistakes and get bad ideas in our heads. What the fuck am I talking about? I just love sitting in the dirt mucking about with plants, letting my mind go where it must, or, it can… in keeping with the situation.
Did you ever eat a tongue sandwich? You know, like from Katz’s Deli? Katz
The idea of tasting something that could have tasted you back is a curious one. The sun is coming up, so, I will go sit in the dirt, in the garden, and think about it like I was a crouton floating on the soup. I know I’ll end up where the soup ends up, but, for a little while I’ll float above it all and enjoy the view for all it is worth if you don’t mind.