-NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER-
LINDA H.Y. HEGLAND
Star Grass & Bowman's Root
My body has begun to let me know – in whispered but emphatic mutterings – that the blows of a fractious world have come to live in muscle and bone. My immune system, too weary of a world that it is constantly warring with, is weakened and sad. I live in constant pain. It is, sometimes, like my soul is caged.
Today, early morning, I go again for an IV drip of vitamins and secrets. I have many invitations to greet crows along the way. A part of me feels that seeing so many crows on a daily basis could be conceived of as portentous, even ill-boding, given my errand. A murder of crows, scavengers of carcasses. But the truth of it is that I live in an area of old-growth forest that the crows find suitable for hiding their large, messy nests. And the neighborhood still boasts above-ground power lines – suitable for warming avian feet in the winter. Research has proven that crows can identify humans. I have been known to toss them apple cores, pieces of toast, the occasional peanut. So they know me. They are probably not so much predicting my death as waiting for a handout. Good morning, Crow.
At the clinic the healing fluid seeps into my body. I am finding strength, and as I sit I think that I will start a garden again. I think when I am done here I will go to the quarry and pick rocks for this garden. I think, today, I can roll them, even lift them to the car. I think today I can be strong and, though tired, my body will have accomplished miracles.
So the garden begins. Through the on-again, off-again spring I have been slipping plants into soil. The names of the plants themselves are a poem –
bowman’s root, star grass, hive vine, stork bill, brodiea, seepspring, Indian paintbrush,
olive, fig, bird’s eye, goat’s beard, tidy tips, owl’s clover, desert lantern
I like to say the names in a chant, the words spilling off my tongue like melodies. I slip them into warm soil – the melodies, the plants. I use my hands to pull soil around their fragile limbs. My cultivation of this garden is different. Where before the growing of a garden was perfunctory and wrought with a certain violence – the tearing out of clinging weeds, the drowning of soft slugs – this time the relationship is altered, changed. I am becoming embodied in this garden, this garden I am tending.
I remember the enchanted gardens of my childhood. Gardens where the colours were brighter – my eyes were open; where I could delight in chasing butterflies by day and fireflies by night – my body was fluid. Gardens where the very air was clear as mountain water, and mornings moist and fragrant. Where the rhubarb was sweeter because it was stolen from the McCafferty’s garden under a nickel-silver moon. My breath-held tension as I moved aside the loose board and bellied up to the rhubarb patch while Mr. McCafferty smoked on his back porch - his fat, deaf Basset Hound at his feet. The smoke of his cigarette drifted up and curled round the single yellow lightbulb, befuddling the moths already intent on a death of wing-sizzled immolation. Smothering the crack-crackle noise of the breaking stem with the hem of my dress, I would tear one piece for me and another for my brother, waiting in the alleyway with sugar in a twist of foil in his pocket.
As I dig with fingers around the plants, I unearth things. My desk becomes a repository for these curios and bibelots. There are odd flowers I pressed in an old book – their coloured juices staining the yellowed words, the skeleton of a shrew, the strange sculptures of seed pods, pieces of a blue robin’s egg – and another that never hatched, a button or two, feathers, a wisp of wheat, shells of clams far from the coast. Inventories from a child’s hiding place in the hollow of a tree, and from my pocket after a rippling of fingers through garden soil, and from religious holy places, are remarkably similar. We are all so fond of bones, it seems. Our found items are our artifacts, our talismans. Each thing on my desk says something of the history of my garden – each spoke to me. It’s why they are there.
I feel a commitment to how I am embodied in this garden, this sliver of nature. There is a new love. I still pull weeds, but gently. I still remove slugs, but I feel shame. I toss them gently into the woods over the fence and hope fervently that they don’t possess an internal compass that will bring them back to feast on the daylilies or the strawberry blossoms – like swallows, or monarch butterflies, or salmon. Sometimes the commitment is unbearable, as is sometimes the pain. But it is assuaged as the soul of this garden runs like sap in my veins, blended with the blood. Like a tree of red, pushing its branches and roots through my heart, out of my toes into the soil. I feel that it would not be untoward to lift my face to a full moon and bay, under the wide-open stare of the midnighter owl.
My body is manifested in this bit of nature – attuned to its struggle, proclaimed in its unfolding, revealed in its transformation. This body, an awkward, unpolished, humble thing; it incorporates touchstones, it utters poetry, it bears baggage, it longs for the green succor of nature. My body, like this wild garden, is an evolving piece of art. It doesn’t have to be beautiful to move you. Like the soft-bodied slugs that hide under the squash leaves I, too, am unprotected, soft, tender, risking experience. But like those warrior weeds, I have grown tenacity. The garden witnesses me. Acknowledges me. As the breeze dances through the nodding heads of scarlet poppies, I may dance in my garden with naked, dirty feet.