I know I’m not the first person to realize that gardening is the world’s most ubiquitous and consistent metaphor factory. Prepare the soil, plant a bulb, weed and water a patch of dirt, then have at it on matters regarding one’s place in the world and desire to do right by it.
Where else this side of church is one allowed to stand naked (metaphor there, too…) before the creation while pondering its meaning and relevance to one’s life?
So on yesterday’s late, late spring day, a certain correspondent of yours found himself deep into mounds of decaying poppies and grasses in his backyard, exclaiming to no one in particular: “Gosh, there’s a lot of old dead shit in there!”
And fall was nowhere in sight, smell or sound.
It turns out this is one of gardening’s boundless number of secrets: that death, and the need to move its remnants out of the way, is pretty much a four-season proposition. Even within spring and its rampant expressions of gonzo growth, death is there, crowding out life, a blot on the land, reminder, harbinger, eyesore.
What is it about the old dead shit that makes us not even see it anymore until we get our hands into the dirt in a purposeful way? Sure, there’s all the greenery, the searing yellows and rambunctious reds that give the old dead shit plentiful cover. But just underneath all the life still steaming ahead are the remnants of any given season, spent, exhausted and inert, their role in the garden’s pageant complete, their carcass a blight on the clean bright lines of what still thrives.
Especially on the cusp of summer, nothing less than removal will do. One can’t wait out the rot of leftover spring and maintain any semblance of the ardor that makes a summer garden what it is.
That old dead shit has to go.
You know, of course, that you always feel better when it’s hauled away, the relief almost palpable. The space-clearing reveals again the stepping stones you’d installed last year, the little raised mound of perennials since overrun.
Death hides too much, makes the landscape a big blobby mass, causes the eye and the heart to stop their forward sweep. There’s growth galore still to go, but you feel suffocation instead, with no room to run or air to breathe or mind to engage.
Too many dead curled leaves and their memories of days now gone.
Filling up the yard waste bin, you also realize it’s not too late to try a newcomer or two in the space that has been cleared. Summer and its long growing days still hold plentiful promise.
You and your garden can still get somewhere from here, so long as you do the sometimes difficult but always necessary work of clearing the old dead shit that drapes itself so ponderously in what would otherwise be your path.
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Deep appreciation to the photographers!
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: email@example.com
Photo near top of page of fan palm by Theen Moy, Adelaide, Australia, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/theenmoy/
Photo of dead plant by Wendell, Ventura, California, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/intherough/
As a gardener, I read with interest your take on the dying stuff of the garden as it goes through it’s perennial tracks through the seasons. At the end, music of Pete Seeger, to describe the progress of toil. I traveled back in time to a Crosby, Still, Nash and Young song, written by Judy Collins, about “Woodstock.” As memory has faded and needed provoking, I Googled “got to get ourselves back to the garden.” I was gifted this blog by Buzz Trexler. I hope you enjoy it too.
Thanks, Marianne. I think I depart from Buzz in the thought that being “mere billion-year-old carbon” is actually more than enough miracle for me, and the only thing I’m sure of is that if there’s a God behind that process, I have a few pointed questions I’d like to ask of her!
I’m not sure I like the appellation “dead shit.” I think of the dead shit as food for the compost pile. I like it when I can clear out the past glories without any intrusive weeds into the compost bin. I actually love being able to replenish the bin after using last year’s compost to fertilize new plants. But I do totally love the metaphor. And you dear Andrew!!!
Glad you stand up for the glories of compost, Harriet! All the old stuff is only “dead shit” when it’s lying there in your way, but soon as you clear it out and send it on its appointed composting rounds, it’s no longer old, nor dead—and nor in your way anymore. And that’s as far as I’m cruising down Metaphor Blvd. tonight!