Gardening is much on my mind of late. Hardly any surprise, as it is spring here in the northern hemisphere and Storm Hannah has just made short work of my French Bean sprouts!! (Luckily, we have two million and five seeds ready to be resown).
To say that gardening has been much on my mind is a polite way of saying that our little UK council-house 12X20 ft plot has been occupying me. It occupies my ponderings, I fantasize about what the garden could look like with this or that plant in place, I try to pre-cognate the pitfalls (note: didn’t bloody well see Storm Hannah coming though…).
I get antsy in winter. Call it the lack of vitamin-D, or the over-exposure to laptop radiation and stultified in-house airs. Spring brings with it another form of mental rockabilly; with expectations and effort jarring manically with the cold season’s lingering apathy… But springtide is an obsession I would gladly have over winter, any day.
Anyway. Maybe one of the (many) reasons I am occupied by the springtide is that it is so similar to writing. Especially creative writing. You put down seeds. You see which ones sprout. You compost, hoping to create a diverse mycorrhizal fecundity. You spread a lot of crap. Sometimes all your hard work gets battered by storms.
But with enough careful and constant work, you end up with living systems. Things which are blooming all on their own, producing their own offspring. Just like a story. Gardens, too, have their own syntax and grammar. Hopefully not (just) in any weird sort of Edwardian formulaic way – but each plant has its own nutritional relationships with the sun and the soil, its particular positioning and the plants around it. You have to find and discern the grammar that makes sense for that plant as well as for any living story*.
Another, downright weird similarity between words and gardens is this: They both have another life in the imagination. An unconscious womb-life.
I know, sounds psychomystical, right? Whenever did Gardener’s Question Time talk about Ancient Greek mystics or the Tao or the Universal Unconscious…?
Well hold on a minute…
As the cold slowly turns to warm, I spend a lot of time sitting in my garden, smoking cigarettes and just looking at it. Not doing much else, but just looking. That bio-kinetic urge again. I think gardeners are always imagining which plot will be best for which crop this time ’round the sun.
We’re picturing what it would look like in our mind’s eye. We’re imagining what it would be like to live in that imaginal, possible garden. Just like with writing stories. You spend an awful amount of time at the start daydreaming, imagining scenes, calling up snippets of character dialogue, sitting-with possibilities that might one day all sit on the page.
Of course, between that and here is a whole lot of work.
One of the first lines of the Tao Te Ching goes something like;
All of the myriad things are contained within the Tao…
And I’m pretty sure that Imablichus, that dead Grecian dude, was saying something similar when he said that;
I say the earth is not an echo
Nor man an apparition;
But that all the things seen are real,
The witness and albic dawning of things equally real …
The above is a little obscure – but to me anyway, it means this; the role of ‘seeing’ something in the imagination is as vital to gardening as it is to writing. This isn’t to say that you are seeing the future (although, who knows, maybe you are…?) but rather that there is an imaginal, liminal quality that informs every action. It allows possibilities and potentialities, and in some sense is just as real as the dirt between our fingers.
That just leaves us with the hard work of turning compost and turning words.