Friday, July 10, 2009

`A Green Thought in a Green Shade'

The garden at my kids’ school is remarkably tidy and secure. It’s surrounded by a chain-link fence and the vegetables, fruits and flowers, except for squash and grapes, grow in horse troughs of galvanized steel. The paths are covered with crushed gravel, and there’s even a portable outhouse. Next to it is a coffin-shaped plastic chest for storing the hose, shears and other supplies, all tidily stowed and secured with a combination lock. I volunteered to take care of the garden for a week.

We go early in the evening. For six weeks greater Seattle has had no measurable rainfall, and none is expected until at least next week. The boys sample nasturtium blossoms – it’s not about the flavor, which is peppery, but the novelty of eating flowers – and go to work on the playground while I pull out the hose, soak the garden and think about Marvell: “What wondrous life is this I lead!”

Red-leaf lettuce, broccoli, two kinds of beans, corn, peas, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots -- none is quite ripe. Nothing to nibble. I’m outdoors but the garden feels like a greenhouse -- laboratory conditions, no herbivores, antiseptic. This is how, I think darkly, they arrange gardens in Belgium. I resist the urge to pull the token weeds. Let them thrive. Fred Chappell, too, has titled a poem “The Garden,” which begins “The garden is a book about the gardener.” If so, this gardener, if I’m reading the text rightly, is prim, at least a little neurotic. Later in the poem, Chappell flips the equation: “The gardener is a book about her garden.” I’m the only male among the garden volunteers. How do I read that? Further on Chappell writes:

“Her thoughts set down in vivid greenery,
The green light and the gold light nourish.
Firm sentences of grapevine, boxwood paragraphs,
End-stops of peonies and chrysanthemums,
Cut drowsy shadows on the paper afternoon.”

The best part of gardening is the easy mindlessness. I water and weed without thinking. Or I think about Marvell:

“Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.”

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