Sunday, May 18, 2014

Not Zen 111: The Forgotten Garden

A girl slept to the sound of raindrops on her roof. She woke to silence in the morning. In her stocking feet, she crept to her window. She saw a clear sky outside, cool and blue. As her gaze lowered, she noticed the green bushes at the edge of the lawn and in front of them, budding flowers, pink and yellow.

"Grandma, can I go out?" she called.

She listened for an answer. Other than the songs of the birds in the nearby trees, she heard nothing. She waited a moment, then dressed herself. She could smell moistness in the air. The day felt like it would turn warm, so she chose light clothes and sandals.

A few minutes later, she strolled onto her grandmother's screened-in porch. The painted grey concrete floor of the porch was wet with dew. Her sandals smeared it. She played in it for a moment, drawing patterns. Around the corners of the room, near the screens and wall, lay pieces of a furniture set with waterproof covers in a pattern of green and yellow leaves. The pieces included end tables, chairs, and a long sofa. Underneath one of the end tables, there hid two bags of gardening tools. The girl marched to the table, crouched down, and pulled out a bag. She liked to play with the hand rakes and imagine their claws digging trails in the dirt.

She scraped the rakes and trowels along the concrete floor until her grandmother appeared.

"There you are," the woman said from the door between the house and porch. "Do you want breakfast?"

"Maybe juice." She held up the three-clawed rake. "Grandma, why don't you garden more?"

"There's no point. I never liked it." Her grandmother folded her arms and leaned against the door frame.

"Yes you did."

"No." She shook her head.

"Grandma, you did it all the time! And you were so good." The girl got off of her knees. She marched to the tools she'd left scattered on the floor. She gathered four or five of them in her arms but stopped when she picked up a pair of shears. She used the shears to point to where the garden had once stood. It was now a raised bed of dirt covered by a tarp. "You had tomatoes and radishes and onions and peas and cucumbers and everything. And all around the house you had tulips and lilies and crinkly flowers... and, um, violets ..."

"The violets are weeds. That wasn't really me." Her grandmother stopped leaning against the door frame. She walked to the porch screen nearest to her old garden. Her left hand touched the screen. "None of it was me, really. It was your grandfather's doing, right down to the weeds he let grow in the lawn. He loved to garden."

"But ..." Her face scrunched tight in frustration. "I saw you doing it."

"I loved doing things with him." Her grandmother pulled her hands close to her chest. "I would have done anything he wanted just to be by his side. Anything. He loved to make things grow. I was proud of the way he tended to the plants and animals. Working next to him gave me a great feeling."

"Does working beside someone feel nice?" Her friends didn't like to work or make things. "Why?"

"I don't know. That's a good question." Her grandmother stood and stared at her forgotten garden for a long time before she answered. "I suppose it's just the way people are. We're social creatures, even the ones of us who feel solitary. We might prefer to work in silence but still, there's something special about solving problems side by side. It needs no words. But it connects us to our humanity. Without it, we're not completely in touch with ourselves."

The girl watched her grandmother's gaze return to the covered garden bed.

"Do you miss digging in the dirt, grandma?"

"I miss my partner," her grandmother whispered.

The girl put her tools into the garden bucket. From them, she choose the hand trowel with the red handle, her favorite.

"Grandma, am I good? Do you like me?" She walked up next to her grandmother's hips. Her grandmother, in surprise, looked down and blinked.

"What a question!" Her hands swooped under her granddaughter's armpits. She lifted. With a grunt of effort and a look of surprise, she held the girl close. "You're an angel. Of course I love you."

The girl waved her trowel. "Will you garden with me?"