Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

The garden is in. The mounds for the blue hubbard squash, the bamboo stakes for the Brockton beans, the tidy cucumber cages, the astonishing colour-changing sweet potato plant. The mulch has been dragged away from the blueberry bushes and piled around the squash hills. The first juice-dripping rhubarb and bouquets of asparagus have been picked, the radishes already two inches high. I've discovered a volunteer cherry tomato plant left from last year and put a cage over it so I won't inadvertently step on it, in the middle of the path. When it's larger I'll transplant it. Last year's onions are already sending out their seed heads. The rain has been just enough, the sunshine long and hot. Perfect weather for the garden. And right on cue, the peonies are blossoming. They say to plant the cold-weather stuff (peas, lettuce, etc.) when the maple trees blossom, and the rest when the peonies bloom, so we're right on track. I can't always figure out the calendar and the moon phases and the whole global warming effect, but the plants know. So I time myself by them.

Because I'm dealing with some irritating health issues this year, I can't garden as intensely as I have in past years. I have pared down from the usual 40 or 50 varieties of vegetables and chosen only those that won't require daily attention. This year I will spend more time in a chair, watching things grow, than I will weeding or harvesting. I'll buy my green beans by the bushel at the farmers' market. I'll support my local growers. And I'll discover just how well I can survive without the usual amount of dirt under my fingernails and straw in my hair. It should be an interesting experiment. I will either begin to drool and gibber and wall myself in the bedroom with stacks of old seed catalogues...or I'll find out that it's okay sometimes to just sit and watch and smell the lilacs. I will grant myself grace, forgive the frailties, appreciate each quiet moment. Cultivate gratitude instead of broccoli.

But if anyone wants a Zen exercise, they're welcome to come over and pick the teeny fronds of clover out of my gravel garden for me. I'll even give you lunch. I hope you like asparagus.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Small Explosions

Today fireworks and bottle rockets will go off (a few escaped last night) to celebrate Queen Victoria's Birthday. But the celebrations have already been underway in my garden for a few weeks now. Each time I go outside, there has been another little burst of colour. The privet hedge leafed out into full green seemingly overnight, and now tiny white showers of flowers are emerging. The grape hyacinth like a million birthday candles pop out of the chocolate mulch. A frilled and midnight-blue iris, weeks earlier than the others, unfurled in a showy flourish and then retreated like an embarrassed actress realizing she's jumped on stage ahead of her cue.

Now the lilacs are bursting out, smelling deeply purple, filling the house with their scent. When I was a teenager, I spent the night at my friend Celeste's house and we watched the royal wedding (Charles and Lady Di) on TV and fell asleep with crushed armfuls of lilacs under our sleeping bags. It has always been one of my favourite scents. The jasmine is popping like fragrant popcorn, the ground cherries are covered in tiny blooms like miniature bottlecaps, and the onions and chives are shooting out their puffy balls of colour. The nameless ferny weed that I've let remain because of its delicate fronds is sending out pink blossoms the shape of forget-me-nots. The star crocus is at its peak. The crabapples all up and down my street are a riot of pink and rose and burgundy, a froth of scent and colour. And the peonies are gathering themselves together for their grand finale, about a week from now. They are the crowning explosion in the flower garden, the dancehall girls in their frilly petticoats, bawdy and blousy and utterly exuberant.They give their all for the fleeting moment they last until heavy rains will inevitably rip off their frills and bend them into the soil. But while they have their brief moment, they dance with all their hearts.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Circle of Sisterhood

The last few days have impressed on me the importance of women having other women in their lives. These are just a few of the things I've observed in the last few days: a neighbour and friend opened up to confide she's just been diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing she will need supportive friends down the road. A woman holding the arm of a friend recovering from a brain tumour, to help her balance as she walked. A woman sitting next to me in the temple helped me tie a bow when I seemed to be all thumbs. A friend offered to meet me to walk the dog together so we could chat while we exercised. A young soon-to-be-mother from the Philippines surrounded by women happy to be substitute moms and help her through this new experience. A baby passed from arm to arm down the row at church, face after smiling face beaming down on her. A blind woman on the subway being helped to a seat, and her seatmate striking up a conversation with her about her placid black guide dog. A friend had a baby prematurely, and a host of knitters instantly reached for their needles to bring comfort and optimism.

I'm reading a history of the Klondike right now, and I am struck by the feistiness and adventurous spirit of the women who left society behind and struck off into the Arctic to seek their fortunes, to make a mark on the world, to pan for gold and to start businesses and to staff the hastily-built hospitals. They flexed their independence in an age when it wasn't expected or even well tolerated. Where did they get their courage from? What made them jump to their feet, pick up their boots, and say "I can do this!"?

I think women are amazing. The ones I know are strong, stubborn, fearless, determined, with a vision of what they're capable of and what the world holds for them. They see a need in the world and a strength within themselves that can meet it. I really believe that when we pull together, women can do anything.