Monday, June 29, 2009

Balance of Nature (continued)

I pray as I work in the garden. It's great alone-time with God. I don't listen to music or talk on the phone. Just me and God against the weeds. I meditate on the parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus tells the story about a farmer who sows his seed; some falls on the rocky path, some on good soil. Some of the seed that falls on the good soil gets choked out by weeds. Jesus explains the parable to his disciples and says the weeds represent the cares and worries of life while the seed is the word of God. I talk to myself and I talk to God and I rip out the weeds and the cares and the worries of my life.

My tools are inadequate. I need machetes and scythes, not clippers. I whack, yank, clip, cut and slash my way through the overgrowth in one particular corner of the yard. I see some bricks and I exclaim, "There's a wall under here!" Honeysuckle vines snarl around Virginia creeper and together entwine some unknown shrub that sends out both vines and branches. Goldenrod has freely sown itself in the area where the Japanese maple tree died. The variegated vinca that I planted a few years ago has gone wild. Ferrel. Cracked the concrete, undermining our whole back porch. The sunflowers have sown freely outside the beds. Of course there is the ubiquitous milk weed which, if left unchecked, will suffocate whatever it entombs. All those and a dozen more unwanted, uninvited plants have taken a stand in one small area of my yard and I am NOT backing down.

I am amazed at how thick and tangled the growth has become. The outer layer of foliage is cut back; I begin to see what is what. There's a lot going on beneath it all. Ho, there's an elm seedling and ah hah! a black walnut tree underneath the vines, too. So I keep snipping and slashing away. Then, as the muscle fatigue is setting in and I am barely able to lift my nippers, I discover the brick border. Tears spring to my eyes; I'm finally breaking through. I may not be able to finish it today, but at least I can see the bones of the landscape again. I want my border and my garden wall and my cultivated plants back.

I don't ever want to let things get this overgrown again. It's not easy to take the garden back after nature has had her way with it. So much of it and so little of me. All I have is a few hours each week to rebuild the broken down walls and restore the borders. All I can do is my best and try to be more vigilant. Some people have memberships at the gym; I have a garden. It's all good.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Balance of Nature

It's been a hot summer. Too hot, almost, to sit out on the porch in the evenings and listen to the rackety chorus of katydids and crickets. I like to spend time outside every day and some nights. I like the velvety feel of the heavy air wrapping itself around me. I like the hum of the insects and the rattle of the leaves in the slightest of breezes. It is an insincere pretense that I could live like this if I "had to." Sans air condition, that is. It helps me to regulate my body temperature so that I don't have to keep the inside air so darned low, and the 80 degree inside air feels good after being outside in the 95 degree swelter. It balances things out.

The cicada killers are back. They're beautiful, scary, ominous looking insects of the wasp family that are the natural predators of the cicadas. We first noticed them a couple of years ago. They fly low, circling the back yard inches above the ground. They are about an inch and a half long, slender, with bright yellow stripes on their backs. But even though they are large, as wasps go, they struggle to take down and hold onto a full grown katydid. An epic battle ensues when the smaller wasp conquers the larger insect and pulls it down into it's hole in the ground.

When we these hunters first colonized our back yard, we were terrified to go outside. The exterminator told us that cicada killers are beneficial insects that will keep the katydids in check, the natural predator that keeps the balance of nature. He said they will only sting if provoked and that the best thing is let them do their job. We've found this to be sound wisdom and so we have grown accustomed to their early summer habitation of our yard.

My climbing rose has mysteriously come back after five years of absence. It died back to the ground after the first year. Then something alien grew out of the root stock: straight shoots of suckers that had thorns as thick as fur, thousands of them per inch. The little-bitty roses that grew from the suckers looked like sweet, pink miniature roses until they fully opened. Then another bud formed in the middle of each. Those secondary buds turned brown, withered, then the whole flower turned soggy. So I cut it back to the ground and sprayed it with weed killer. Then vine killer. Then I whacked at the roots with a shovel. For five years I've approached the demon rose with long sleeves and gloves and weapons of destruction and chopped, stomped, and hacked anything that dares to grow above the ground. This year, quite mysteriously, the original rose seems to have reborn and sent out nice little shoots, with a respectable amount of thorns. I'm hopeful we may even have some normal roses later in the season. But to my dismay, on my early foray into the garden this morning, I saw, growing along side the nice rose, angry, jutting, vicious suckers of the demon rose. Would that all my flowers and trees and shrubs had the will to live and thrive that this evil rose has.

What would the world look like if all the evil dictators had natural predators that would take care if them? Like wasps that would swoop down and drag them down into their holes in the ground. Nature has such wonderful checks and balances, when left to it's own devices. Shame, isn't it, that there is no balance in human nature?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hide and Seek

From our earliest cries of hunger or distress, we long for, need to be found. From infancy we demand to be important to someone outside of ourselves. This response nourishes our spirits and enables us to grown into fully human beings that can respond to others. We need affirmation that we matter, not just cosmically, but personally, interpersonally. The lack of this confirmation creates fear and phobia and insecurity and antisocial behavior.

A baby panics when mommy leaves him at the nursery. A toddler wines and wheedles and demands his own way. A child needs to be tucked-in repeatedly. A teenager wears outrageous or inappropriate clothing. An adult flirts with sex or drinks herself to "significance." We just need someone to find us and know us. We need to be fully acknowledged and deemed worthy.

In the movie, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," the son shaves his almost-invalid father who is confined to a fourth floor apartment. The father questions him about his life, his choices, his career. He slowly and carefully scrapes off the bristly whiskers. When he is done with the shave, the son tweaks his father's nose, ruffles his hair and hugs him. The voice-over says to the viewer, "I think we will always be children." Don't we find that to be true, no matter how old we are?

Why do we then play peek-a-boo? Why are we always testing the limits of love? If life isn't a game, why do we play as if it is? We like to play hide and seek because we know that there is a certain outcome, a predicatability that we count on. I call, "Marco." You reply, "Polo." I hold my breath and swim towards you and find you. You call "time out" and we all come back to "base." There is security in that. In relationships there needs to be an "olly, olly, oxen free." Come out, come out, wherever you are! If I can't find you, then at least we need to start again at home base.

Whose turn is it, anyway?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Social Goo

Some people will never like you, no matter what.

The worst feeling is when you think they do and you go along being yourself and then find out. Do you do what I do: try to act like you think they would like you to act in order for them to like you? Ah well, I'm a middle child. I do things like that.

But this rarely works. They know you're acting and are easily disgusted by your irrational behavior. It could be that you're loud or obnoxious, or self-centered, or that they are jealous of you or you remind them of someone else. They just don't like you.

Not liking people comes natural. What I mean is, once you actually get to know someone, it becomes second nature to judge their actions and worse, motives. It's the simplest thing to jump to conclusions and make assumptions. It's easy to misinterpret words. It's incredibly easy to dislike someone who is smarter, prettier, more clever than you. What is unnatural is to work at liking ornery, talkative, self-centered, bossy, boring, (your word here) people. You know, most of us.

Don't we all have certain friends or family that we accept, excuse, forgive and include in our lives? What makes them tolerable and not others? There must be some lubrication that greases the societal machinery, some special goo that makes it possible to have fellowship with certain fellow humans.

Perhaps this lubricant is common courtesy or respect. If you treat people as if you like them, then you might be surprised at the change. Either they've risen to the kindness you've extended them or your perception of them has changed. I think there is something in the Bible about treating others the way we would like to be treated. Hmmmm. Sounds like good social goo to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

White Feet

My dog is very proud. He grooms himself excessively, especially the white on his chest and paws. He doesn't like going outside when it's wet. I have to force him to go down the back stairs and into the side yard to "go potty." He will go down a few steps and look back woefully at me as if to say, "Do I HAVE to?" I yell "GO" and he will, ever so slowly, descend into the yard. Then he will stop on the concrete pad at the bottom of the stairs and tentatively touch the dirt. He reaches out again, uncertain what to do. Then he lifts his leg on the fence post and runs back up the stairs.

There is a wilder, more daring dog that emerges when we go to my parents' farm. We load the dogs into the bed of the pickup truck and drive down the hill from the house to the barn. Before we even come to a stop he is flying out of the back of the truck. He yips joyfully as he hits the ground in full stride and circles around in clouds of dust. He tears through the paddocks and puddles. He skids to a stop to savor fresh manure then dashes off to the creek. He splashes around the edge of the pond, not actually plunging into the water. This is fine by me because I'm not certain about the snapping turtles or whatever else lurks beneath the dark surface.

At the end of the day his paws are pink from the Alabama red clay. He is dirty and stinky and delightfully exhausted. Country Dog has earned his rest. But as soon as we are back home, City Dog will give me a reproachful look the next time I insist he go outside to potty in the rain. Doesn't want to get his white feet wet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Artist's Block

I can't do anything. It feels like not being able to feed myself or forgetting how to walk. It's awful. I laid out my pallet, loaded up a brush with paint and brought it to the canvas and nothing happened. No shading, no contour, no values: just paint. I manipulated clay and it never became an arm or a nose or anything other than mud. My hands have betrayed me, my eyes do not see. I am bereft.

I question everything. Why do I bother? What does it all matter? Who cares if I make art? My art doesn't measure up anyway. I think I'll throw my paintings in the garbage or burn them. Smash my sculpture and stomp on it.

It fills me with despair. I blame myself, my husband, my bank account, my students, everything. What is wrong?

Am I tired? Am I empty? Have I given all and left nothing for myself? Have I failed to nourish my body, my spirit, my mind? Do I need to sleep? Walk? Play with the dogs? Swing on the hammock?

I'm going home now. I'm going to take a nap and sip a beer and swing on the swing and call my momma and play with the dogs and wish Isaac a happy birthday and watch a Woody Allen movie and sleep late in the morning and go to church and spend the rest of the weekend praising God for all his many many gifts. And maybe next week try it again.