The Sense Memory of a Garden

Most of yesterday was spent cleaning out the garden.  It’s the final winterizing of the plants for the season.  I put my headphones on and listened to a couple of my favorite musicals and began to pull the annuals, cut perennials, and mound roots of things that need protection.  This will be my last garden post for the season.  The garden becomes my place of reflection and I typically delve deeper into my emotions and feelings when I am surrounded by its grace.  I have not always loved gardening, as a kid on the ranch we had an acre that was mostly vegetables and potatoes and it seemed more of a chore to maintain.  In those days we completely lived off the land, canned or stored everything in a root cellar to last until the next harvest.  We raised and butchered our own cattle and all the men in my family, except me were hunters always filling the freezers with meat.   The ranch was sustained by a natural water spring about a mile up the mountain that we piped down the homestead.  Life seemed so simple then.  But as a kid I think life always seems simple no matter where you grow up.  Yesterday, as I cleaned the garden, I began to realize how connected I have always been with the land around me, just as my father, grandfather, and great grandfather who homesteaded the land were connected.  I once had a friend in Dallas who talked about how the people from Montana have a certain look in their eyes that was recognizable, that was different from everyone else.  I hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time, but have thought about it a lot since then.  Becoming a photographer and creating portraits you become keenly aware of other peoples focus.  What I began to realize, that look my friend was talking about was the openness of one´s eyes to see beyond ourselves.  In Montana we grow up with our vision focused on the beautiful landscape that surrounds us, the mountains always become a point of focus in the distance.   Whereas, when I go to a city like New York, the focus becomes narrow, downward, avoiding, protecting our personal space.  In Montana we perceive the entire world is our personal space.  This focus changes depending on whatever environment which you are raised.  For me working in the earth grounds me and brings me back to center.  I have been focused for so long on something so narrow, upfront, personal and close to my heart, that I almost feel like I forget to breathe.  But working in the garden gives me perspective of where I have been as I am flooded with all my memories from all my previous seasons of the garden.  The garden holds our sense memory within our bodies as often as repeating a task stirs a reoccurrence of a thought associated with that task from before.  Several years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a summer of chemotherapy, though I didn’t have the energy that summer to garden much, I did make it out every day.  I was the only way I survived that summer from hell.   It is the place where I dare to dream in the solitude of my own head.  As a kid I loved digging the mounds of potatoes in the cool fall, there was something satisfying about pulling from that dirty earth something that would sustain you for a year.  So the Fall seasons for me, though they represent the earth becoming dormant, signify the bounty of sustainability for a new year.  I realize I am a man of many opposites and perhaps this is what I love so much about the process of a garden.  Granted, I no longer work the earth to sustain myself and buy most of my produce in the supermarkets, but the idealism of this life is still there and lives within my own hands.   At least with the land I know where I stand and to which I will eventually be returned.  My thoughts this Fall were on my accomplishments this year and how much I have grown and changed as I realize this has been my greatest year of self-acceptance.