If you were to look at my facebook feed, or visit any of my homes over the years, starting with my childhood in Southern California reaching now to the chillier climes of the San Francisco bay – you would discover that I always worked to transform whatever spot of soil I tended into something a little more green, a bit more colorful. To create a little spot of refuge that would bring joy, peace, and a sense that here, nature is welcome, and appreciated. I find being in a quiet garden a spiritual experience; digging my fingers into the soil, planting something alive and nurturing it hopefully into bloom, giving the birds and bees a place to feel welcome; it gently reminds me I am a part of something larger, and yet I can still accept that, like all things, my creation is only temporary.
In our SF home – where I have lived a little more than 3 years, but my husband has been for more than a quarter century – over the years, occasionally some trees have become too large, and they were removed. When I first moved here, the small strip of soil immediately adjacent to the front of the house had 4 large olive trees so overgrown I did not even know there was cement under them; climbing a ladder to try to trim them from reaching to block out the front windows on the main floor was a joint effort. Eventually, we decided to have them removed – but, as was the practice in earlier such attempts, the gardener engaged simply cut them back, and cut them down to the ground, where the stumps remained.
In another small spot, immediately by the first few of 30 steps leading from the street to our front porch, a much older stump protrudes from the small rectangle where my efforts to get other plants to prosper have been futile. In fact, my planting of climbing roses where the olive trees had been failed so miserably I had to remove them, as well – they, of course, left no residue behind. Soon, I will begin to search for a resource here who will, hopefully at a somewhat reasonable price for this expensive city, come and grind the stumps down, at least far enough to free up some space for new growth. While those roots, lifeless as they may be, remain – new growth will still struggle to make it their own.
I remember as a child of perhaps 6 going with my older brother to the city park in our little town of Corona, California more than 55 years ago, and picking up an acorn from the great oak trees there – I am sure, now, it looks very different but hope some of those trees still stand. I planted it in our little back yard of that simple 60’s tract home … and it grew, slowly, at first just a little few branches. I grew, also … into high school, and college, and my first job, moving away. In that 20 years and more, the seedling became a mighty tree, so large it created problems with power lines and neighbors, and had to be removed. In the years after my mother aged, and became unable to be at home alone, I returned; as she spent her final years in a nursing home, I began the process of renewing that home, where she, as a disabled parent, raised us with limited income and was unable to keep things in repair. It gave me a sense of wholeness to create a garden, and to bring new life and comfort to the house itself, so that someone who would follow would be happy to call it their own.
Regretfully, roots take a great deal of effort to truly remove – particularly if they are dead, and run deep. Sometimes, as with our olive trees, shoots emerge from the roots, life struggling to survive, the cells programmed to reproduce and reach for the sun. Cutting off that which was seen resolved the visual issue … but left stumps and roots that I cannot, on my own, remove. As I have spent time the past few weeks of the new year, trying to use a saw to cut through that deadwood, trying to dig somehow into roots that run at least 15 feet below where the plant emerged from the surface, down below the stone foundation of our home that withstood the 1906 earthquake – I am defeated. But nothing new can truly thrive there – the opportunity for beauty to bloom anew cannot be fulfilled while those stumps, those roots, dead as they be, take up the limited space that new life needs to come forth.
The same is, of course, true of our hearts. My heart. There are still deep roots, as I am reminded constantly by my struggle to channel my emotions positively, to heal the deeper gashes in my soul from the trees that no one can see but which were planted in my spirit from the earliest years of life. We all have gardens in our hearts; I have always loved the symbolism of “The Secret Garden” children’s story, but also – Oscar Wilde’s “The selfish giant”. In the first story, a young orphan taken in by a distant relative discovers a walled garden shut off for years, where, by entering and letting in light, love grows within that new family to replace the pain that they had tried to shut out behind locked gates and overgrown shrubs. In “The selfish giant”, the title figure returned from visiting his ogre friend to find the local children had been playing in his garden; he angrily shuts it off, walling it away from the. One day, he finds a young boy visiting there, and his heart begins to open, until … the events of the story are best left for you to discover, it is freely available online.
In my postings of 2020, my first year of writing here, I shared about some of the events of my life, very personal events, writing even of things I had not told to many of my closest friends and family. I titled the blog “my journey towards authenticity” – because that journey is really only begun. Discovering who we are – especially when, for whatever reason, we have been somehow denied that opportunity, afraid to accept ourselves, and traded the seeming approval of others for embracing what cries out in our own spirits – it is a process that takes a lifetime, much like a great oak takes decades to grow from that tiny acorn I held in my hand as a child. My shortcomings and foibles constantly remind me there are roots running deep in me still that I have not yet removed – or time, perhaps, has not yet wrought its power to dissolve sufficiently to erase their presence. I recognize they may always be with me – but in acknowledging they linger, present but unseen, I can at least embrace honesty. As Pinocchio repeatedly proved, one cannot become real without honesty.
In the past two weeks, I have been graced with the opportunity to join an online book discussion with strangers. They are all men; they are all people who, for whatever reason, learned in the course of their lives that, like me, they were different – they had feelings others did not share, and in many cases that they were taught to deny, or fight, or erase. And, like me perhaps, some erased their own ability to grow, to become the great trees they were born to be in spirit – denying those around them the shade of their caring in times of heat, or the song of birds nesting in the branches above.
Perhaps, like these roots in our garden I cannot dig out without help, we each need help from others to uncover those deeply buried residues in our hearts – they block the ground of our spirit from new life, and perhaps even sprout up in new ways, refusing to be buried forever. Today, I shared with the group, as we discussed how the factors in our own, unique histories and lives and backgrounds had common threads, that I was learning – slowly, painfully, and unfortunately often at cost to those in my life who loved me, some now gone – only by coming to continue to grow into accepting myself as I am, like you – flawed, imperfect, selfish at times, discouraged and afraid at others – only by believing that others can in fact love us, as we are NOW, can we begin to be the channel for a greater love through us to those around us.
So, another year has begun, and the first month nearly over – change is happening around us. Soon, here in the northern hemisphere, it will be spring … new life will start to emerge from the seeds. Daily, we plant seeds in our hearts, from what we read, what we hear from others, what we listen for in the quiet of the night when the wind and darkness wakes us and the distractions that keep us occupied during the day are not as present in our consciousness. And daily, over the years, we reap the fruit of what we planted before. I am working on my own root removal, in both my gardens. Whatever season it may be – a time to sow, and a time to reap – we can stroll in the garden of our hearts, ask what we see there, and begin to dig, and plant anew.
Your comments and sharing are welcome … hope to see you again, friend.