It is time to prepare the New England garden for the coming winter. It is a ritual that we go through to lay to rest all of the growing things that have enriched our summer here at camp. In the flower beds, some of the annuals will continue to serve next year as compost, but the perennials will greet the spring again after their winter rest, so we are careful to prepare them a comfortable winter place with a nice blanket of straw to protect their roots.
This chilly morning, as I step down the camper steps, I’m greeted by the Morning Glories. They are only buds at this early hour, curled up like a cozy cat, but in a couple of hours they will open with their arms flung back wide to greet the rising sun. Morning Glories know when to just be still, quietly waiting for the sun to warm them enough to open. They remain in their morning meditation, saving energy for the right time to stretch and rise and preen until it is time again to fold inward and relax for a bit. Sleeping in the dawn’s mist for now, they will be content blue smiles against a blue sky later in the day.
Morning Glories have always been one of my very favorites flowers. In the little mill town in NH where I grew up, they climbed up beside the porch screen door. The sight of Morning Glories is forever linked in my mind with the sound of that slamming door as we kids ran in and out of the house over summer vacation for Kool-Aid and snacks. They came back every year, newly planted from the seeds randomly dropped by the fading flowers of the year before. There is an old Buddhist saying that I am very fond of, “All that is the flower is contained in the seed.”
This morning, I am pulling out squash plants that have been dressed up in cheery yellow blossoms all summer. I whisper a thank you as I bury them under cover in the compost pile; that living repository of energy that welcomes generations of plants to blend their fading life-force together to feed the new generation next year. Squash plants are prolific marvels of the garden. Bending but not breaking, they sway gently in a rain shower or breeze attesting to the wisdom of being flexible. They appear to be nothing but water wrapped in fragile, hollow green casings and yet, they produced big families of sturdy fast growing vegetables that we could share with friends all summer. They are hard working sensible New Englanders during this short growing season. It is hard to tug their roots loose and retire them to the compost pile, but as they finish their work, they remind me that everything is a process of renewal and that we are all a part of it.
The Rudbeckia plant has been our Evensong, glorious during the day and glowing against the moon at night. Usually they are tall, reaching around five feet in height, but this is a monster. We don’t know why, but it has stretched skyward to nearly nine feet this season and it bobs large yellow mum-like flowers on the breeze. At this height, they have to be deep and steady, determined and resilient, a lesson in how to set ourselves on a firm foundation as we tower up to our potential. I cannot imagine the roots this plant must have sent down to support nine feet of stalk with heavy flowers on its crown! The Rudbeckia has great Karma: the more flowers I harvested and gave away, the more they came back. It is seemingly eager to leave the nest garden and go sit in a vase to cheer the kitchen of a friend.
The sedums are an exercise in patience and faith. They do not blossom before we leave for the season. They take all summer long to form tiny buds and I can see the tint and tone of red deepening and developing, waiting to burst forth when full fall arrives. I look at them every morning, sometimes wishing that they would hurry just a bit this year so that we could catch a glimpse of how beautiful they will be. Ah, but they are not on our timetable, they are on their own. The time of every life’s full blossoming is not for us to determine; we come and we go not as we wish, but as it is. We will be gone before they shout color but I am grateful for the promise they make and the reminder that every life is a work in progress.
After a bit of garden work, I went on a walking meditation with our little Wicca. She, like the garden perennials, seems to continue to blossom even though she turned seventeen in August. I wonder how many more walks we will share? She still likes to go down through the grasslands here at West Hill Park scouting out creatures. She walks out ahead of me, tail high and wagging back and forth, full of the joy of movement and whatever is on the wind that is making her nose twitch. We sit on the bench for a few moments and watch dragonflies and bees on the wildflowers that grow there. They too will soon rest for the winter.
I talked to her this morning about how precious it is to be with the living things that we love here at camp, including her. I talked to her also about the impermanence of all things. I think she seems to understand that this very moment is what we have together and that life will unfold and change with mystery. The garden will practice surrender and acceptance, reminding us that we are perennial too. Just as the flowers will come again and again, there are no limits on the beauty, courage and generosity that emerges from each of us in our short time together.
It has taken me all summer to write about a deep loss in Arnie’s side of our family that happened this summer here in Mass. This morning, as we close another season and move on to the mystery of what is next, I turn my face to the sun and thank the Universe for the life of Suzy Muzzey Seminara and comfort for those who loved her.