This is the curious thing about a garden, a beautiful thing, really—it can be made with just one pair of hands. It is easier if there are two of you, but you are enough on your own.
Just in case nobody has ever told you. Yes?
You only need one pair of eyes to see an empty corner of the fence, hungry for the perse of a wild sweet pea. One nose is enough to follow the fragrance of rain on the lavender bushes, the mess of buttercups near the wall. The glorious presence of an apple tree in Spring.
One heart is enough to plant a thing. We are not always told this by our fathers.
There are things that are kept hidden from a woman from the moment God lets go of her gossamer hands, sending her out into the world, with just a kiss on her forehead, leaving her with only one wild angel to stand behind her, whispering, ‘You are enough. You are enough.’
One heart is a wild, vast country that can learn how to own itself.
Also, whilst we are planting, let’s be raucously extravagant and say, ‘things’—why plant one thing when you can throw an entire handful of seed into the wind and trust for a life to be given to you? Ask for more! Be greedy. Don’t settle for anything less than sheer abundance. Plan a wildly quiet life, then live it.
Our grandmothers have always known that words can be written and erased, written, and erased, over and over again. Women know. Women know. Like children playing hide-and-seek, calling to each other, ‘Ready or not, here I come!’
Innocence, playing in the warmth of the sun.
Still, words can be taken by the wind, far across the ocean. They so easily get lost. Listen carefully. Listen closely. Listen to the silence and you might stumble upon everything that is hiding right in front of you.
Playful words, gifts of verbs and nouns and adjectives all strung up, floating, chasing the breeze. You might think them small promises and you might be correct, but you might have misunderstood too. There is always that possibility. Nothing is implausible. Nothing is impossible, but not everything is possible. The sharp irony of this.
Things get lost so easily if you don’t know the language that they speak. If you don’t know how to hold onto them with an open hand. If you don’t know how to live in a crowded corner.
Promises can be given between people, pushed across the kitchen table like something that says ‘chosen’, but sometimes things will come and eat the words, eat the silky soft beginning of each tender leaf. Caterpillars are notoriously fond of tiny green things, and the birds that I love so much, and goats. Goats can never get enough; never know where they are permitted to feed, you know? Anybody who has ever been owned by goats will tell you that choosing a life with them means knowing that some things will be destroyed and there is not much that you can do about it. To goats, everything is edible. They climb over fences, crawl under gates, and ignore almost any boundary you put into place. A wall is helpful, but you need to build it high. You need to make it secure. You need to use your own hands, because only you will know the edges of your land. Just as only you will know the edges of your heart. What you are willing to own. What you are willing to give up for the caterpillars, and the birds, and the goats. There is a lot of work in these sentences.
Yes, it is what it is.
Planting a garden if there are goats about, can be difficult, almost impossible. They need their own little place, their own lush field, a life away from flowers and baby runner beans, and the early gem of emerald courgettes hidden beneath the prickly leaves.
When I was a child, we had a goat, so I know a little bit about failure. Our goat had freedom to roam all over the fields. It delighted in chasing me whenever I went to check on my little corner of plantlings. I loved the chickens, our indignant geese, one of whom sat on a nest of eggs for more than a year not wanting to accept that they were never going to hatch. Even then, even as a child, I felt so sorry for her. She seemed so determined. So hopeful. I understand this even more now. Life has happened to me. I know what it is to hold a thing, protecting it, not wanting to let it go. Not yet. Knowing its beauty, the gift of it. The once-in-a-lifetimeness of it.
I also loved the bees that built their homes on sweetness in the square hives near the edge of the river. I was never afraid of them, and oh the gift, the glistening honeycomb in the big enamel dish; honey that tasted of clover! Such a thing one can never forget.
But I was secretly relieved when the goat found a new owner.
There. I have said it.
You can judge me, of course, but if you know what I am talking about you will nod your head gently and say, ‘Yes, I too have walked barefoot where things were not what they were the day before.’
And you will know how much it hurts.
But what about failure?
What if you were to plant a thing and let it sleep secretly in its brown nest and after tiptoeing to its bed every new morning, hoping to see life, what if after all of that, it still says, ‘No’, still won’t allow itself to give you what you had prepared your heart for? This is a fact: it will stay with you. Even if it dies, and yes, things do. Plants need quiet, the promise of water, to be loved by the light. Too many feet walking all over the place in which they are shaping their gossamer greenness, and they will give up.
Still, know this—you have made an imprint in the skin of your mother, her richness, and it will never leave. Courage never goes unnoticed. Never goes unrewarded. The earth will remember your hands deep in the silky loam, the way that you removed the gardening gloves, the protection that you refused, how you allowed the dirt to find the secret place beneath your fingernails, the way you flinched when the nettle tested your faith, yet still you kept on digging and planting.
You didn’t leave. You wanted to. But you didn’t.
You stacked your own stones, one on top of the other and you made it all safe.
And you learned that a garden can be made entirely from a promise to yourself, but also, you saw with your own eyes, how, if you let it, it will die if you look away from your life.
Look at your hands, the gentleness of them. How they want to hold life. How you choose to sit with your heart displayed, uncovered.
See the braveness of the life you have chosen. What a lovely thing to put inside your mouth, this courage of yours—how it tastes like love.
— on walls, and planting things, and eating courage | words with Elizabeth
© Liezel Graham 2021.
Image by Annie Spratt, on Unsplash.