Saturday, 27 June 2015

Garden Guru

Last week, a local newspaper carried a story about a woman who discovered 4 large goldfish swimming in her pond. She and her husband had never, ever seen fish in it before. Then they remembered that a visiting friend had emptied a baggie of tiny goldfish into the pond – 4 years earlier! All those years, the fish had been dallying about under the pond vegetation, growing and thriving, and were finally ready to show themselves!

Now there’s a life lesson in that story, if you want to excavate it. Something along the lines of “There’s a lot more brewing under the surface of things than you are aware of. It will all be revealed, if you are patient.”

It reminded me that the garden can teach us many things. We have a garden behind our home, one that we started from scratch when we moved here in 2007. The yard was a blank canvas, and we went to work on it with gusto. Now it's a jungle or a paradise, depending on your point of view.

Sometimes, we’ve grown things we didn’t intend to grow. Sunflowers, calendulas, tomatoes and fennel are very good at volunteering to grow all by themselves, from seeds that fell to the ground unnoticed last year. This year we’ve discovered that those squash seeds we carefully composted have come back to haunt us. We have a couple of squash plants growing in the front yard, and one is even growing out of the compost bin. I think there's a lesson in this, too, but I'll let you puzzle on that.

In our garden we have perennial beds and a lovely vegie garden. It’s been an extremely productive garden: this week we’re eating our own potatoes, lettuce, peas, and berries: boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries...

Ah, yes: the blueberries. If you ever need to get taken down a peg or two, blueberries are a great antidote to the “Look what a beautiful, productive garden I’ve created!” syndrome. The problem is the robins. We’ve had robins in our strawberries in other years, but this year they discovered that blueberries are just so much easier to access. Without even asking for permission, they landed on the pea fence to survey the possibilities. "Well, would you look at that! Our own private grocery store. Oh, Mamma, this is going to be good," says Sir Robin to his wifey.

Well, the resident sweetie was not amused. Out he went, shooing them away. “If I do this enough times, they’ll get the message,” was his reasoning. Right. These robins weren’t reasonable birds. We watched them fly in, as though they were getting landing instructions from the traffic controllers at  Pearson International airport – one after the other, bearing off our precious fruits. Sometimes they even got greedy and took two or three at a time. Clearly, we would need to do something more drastic.

String old cassette tapes around your bushes – the shiny fluttering will scare them off, we were told. Didn't work. So we visited the Dollar Store and came away with pie plates, streamers, and a colourful whirlygig. The pie plates and neon orange streamers are fluttering above the bushes, while the whirligig turns round and round. “Oh, you changed the decor,” say the robins. “For us? Oh, you shouldn’t have.” Then they do their grocery shopping, and fly off without even a wave of their wings.

Grrr. Gardeners tell us we could bring a radio into the blueberry patch and that might scare off the birds, but I don’t have a lot of hope. We’d probably play the music the birds just love, and next thing you know, they’d be organizing a dance and inviting the neighbourhood hooligans. So we caved: we decided to live with it. We still get blueberries, just not quite as many. There are some things that you just have to accept; fighting for our blueberries is  not the hill we want to die on.
Which reminds me of something I’ve read by Thomas Moore, a Jungian psychologist who has written much about the human condition. He says we all have personal “robins in the bushes”: traits and shortcomings that we’d rather not have. "I shouldn't be so judgmental ... impatient ... so undisciplined. I should be neater ... read more ..."  (you fill in the blank.) And we tell ourselves that we will work on those faults, and when we conquer them, then, THEN life will be so much better. We try a lot of things, but nothing seems to work. Who are we kidding? There’s nobody perfect – we may think we are little more perfect than the next person, but then, that’s our foible. Moore says that we might be better off recognizing that we have our shadow sides. Instead of fighting our flaws , perhaps we can use our energies more profitably in positive directions. The flaw is what makes us human, and perhaps a little more humble. This is not saying that we should never attempt to root out deep spiritual faults that impact our families and our own happiness. But the things that bug us about ourselves may be the traits that make us who we are (just as the robins' antics are part of the life of the garden.)

I don't know how you feel about that -- when I first read this idea by Moore, I was taken aback. Not strive for perfection? Accept yourself, warts and all, and move on? Isn't that heretical in the great self-improvement drive that our culture has become, and that many spiritual traditions also promote? But as I think more and more about it, I'm beginning to agree.

Something to think about: another lesson from the garden, brought to us this week by the robins.

The elves have done it again: this is what our little tree in the woods looks like now. Happy Canada Day, everyone!

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