Chaos in the Garden
N. West Moss
One sweltering August afternoon when I was a kid, my mother squatted down beneath a tall yellow flower and pulled a tuber out of the dirt. “That’s a Jerusalem Artichoke,” she said, her voice so low that my sister and I had to lean in to hear. Mom wiped the dirt from the bulb and cut slices for us with her pocket-knife. We stood in the garden, my sister, my mom and me, and ate it, crisp and sweet and gritty, delicious, communal, filthy fun.
e. e cummings wrote a poem about spring, about the glorious, dangerous sexuality inherent in the season. He called spring “mudluscious” – a convergence of the childlike love of jumping in a puddle and the adult delight in sensual messiness. Spring, he seemed to say, held the promise and danger of new life, like the potential fertility of a zucchini seed, pushed down into a pile of horse manure - yum and yuck both. The power of spring is both beautiful and terrifying, both “puddle-wonderful” and like a pied piper, a siren song, luring us into the forest of procreative fecundity with all its mess and confusion. Where is the line between good and bad, poison ivy and clematis, reproduction and lust? One man’s weed is another man’s chamomile flower, after all.
Blurred boundaries are at the heart of gardening. It’s not for the faint of heart, not for those who like clean fingernails or predictability. The best kind of gardening, my kind, is profuse, joyful and filthy. It is the apple seed that sprouts without permission in the compost bin. It is the hundreds of seeds that grow but fail to make it to flower. It is about trying to create life, and the delightful slime, muck, and failure that accompanies creation. If you don’t think Nature is sexually charged, stand next to my pear tree. You can hear the white blossoms open themselves wide, and whisper throatily to each fat bee that zig-zags past, “Pick me. Pick ME!”
Gardeners exult in the mud of spring, knowing that it is in the mud that life takes hold, and that a healthy dose of utter chaos is good. A gardener knows to throw down more seeds than needed. There is the expected hardening-off of plants in the cold of early spring, and thinning that comes later when too many seeds sprout. Gardeners love the wealth of too much arugula in the garden, with lettuce leaves as thick as wet dollar bills. We tip-toe around like criminals, filling plastic bags to the brim. We hang them, sagging, on neighbors’ doorknobs. Ring and run.
If gardeners are artists, I am more Jackson Pollock than Rembrandt. I court the rampant unpredictability of the garden and of life. While I shake my fist at the groundhogs, I hope guests will show up unannounced on Sunday mornings. I like thunder and thick raindrops spattered on my eyeglasses, and the cooling cup of coffee that sits on the porch because I got up to see where the cardinals were nesting. I like to have plants by the front door that need planting, and I take comfort from the bowl of rolled up, half-used seed packets from last summer that sit on my book shelf. I dance when I dig up the first potato each year, and swoon when the giant hibiscus opens. Passion feeds my garden as surely as manure.
There are tidy gardeners out there who grow more efficiently than I do. They harvest gorgeous red tomatoes, and their rows of produce are weed-free and evenly spaced. I respect that, but I can’t be what I am not. I don’t completely trust people with clutter-free houses. Where do they put the broken egg they found if not on the windowsill next to the rusted key?
I am fed by the smell of dirt, the smell of wet coffee grounds in the compost heap, the way my pillow smells like the back of my husband’s neck. The twin smells of skunk cabbage in a cold stream, and the steam that rises from a boiling pot of maple sap in early April are full of joyful abundance, of children and old men, of the future and the ooze we all crawled out of. Could there be anything more sensuous than shoving glove-less fingertips way down in the dirt under the roots of a May Apple and, wiggling them there like earthworms, pulling the roots up to replant by the pond?
Do you hear that sound? It’s the chaos of Life calling. There are thousands of cicadas out there singing to find a mate, and frogs, plump-full of eggs. There are pears about to ripen and fall amid drunken, greedy wasps. That white iris over there is so heavy with lust it’s about to lie itself down in the rain-soaked grass. Come walk with me. You know you want to. You know you do.
About the Author: N. West Moss' work has appeared in Salon, The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, SAND out of Berlin, and elsewhere. Her work has won 2 Faulkner-Wisdom Gold Medals and the 2015 Great American Fiction Contest. Her first book, The Subway Stops in Bryant Park, is due out from Leapfrog Press in May of 2017, and is a collection of short stories set in Bryant Park in New York City.
Learn more at her website.
Learn more at her website.