Outside, the garden sleeps, the raised beds silent as graves in a burial ground, lined up as straight and somber. Hidden is a promise of life deep with each bed, a challenge here to see what we can grow in perhaps but a month of frost free weather, with the monsoons providing untamed waters to my pleas at domesticating crops in this course landscape.
But try we must. We need our hands in the earth, the cleansing of dirt, of our soul within the soil. We need to garden. Is it the tending, the nurturing, the care of a tame and cultivated nature so fragile and unwilling on its own?
Here I have learned to turn my focus inside at times, to satisfy my need of dirt under my fingernails. House plants are plentiful, it’s a jungle of sorts in our cabin. A bountiful crop of Jade, Philodendron, Christmas Cacti, English Ivy, Aloe and herbs. In the southern corner of our cabin, a tropical paradise grows. As a reminder of my summers long ago in the Greek Islands, I once bought a bougainvillea, thought it would be lovely outside a guest cabin, draping down the log walls, showering the cabin with fuchsia blossoms, a vivid contrast to this wild landscape and a refreshing change from the geraniums and petunias I tend to choose to decorate the outside of our cabins.
On the last day of June, it froze. A heavy frost turned the leaves a dark, liquid green. I was certain it was all over. It was my first or second summer here. I didn’t know better. I didn’t realize a frost can come about any time here. When you least expect it. I have learned to expect it.
The guest who had been staying in that cabin was from Florida, where these plants do grow. She laughed and told me you couldn’t kill a bougainvillea if you tried, suggested I cut it back and try again. I did, cut it all the way to the stem, leaving a sorry basket filled with ugly grey sticks protruding. And then a funny thing happened. It started to grow. Six or seven years later, it is still growing. It remains indoors now, and I can’t say it drapes and languishes over my log walls anything like I remember these plants did in the Greek Islands over the white washed walls. But it is alive, and blesses us with bright blossoms quite regularly. As out of place in these mountains as a tropical bird.
Now our lettuce has sprouted, our winter crop, beginning its life in our kitchen window. It will end its life there as well in the spring, yet provide us with fresh greens throughout the winter. Nothing fancy, no greenhouse, no grow lights. Just a large planter in the window. Things will grow. If you give them a chance, they grow.
And things will die. The garden outside is dormant now. There is not life I can see. Perhaps an earthworm buried deep beneath the frozen surface. I wonder how they survive the deep freeze. The beds have been prepared for next year, softly tucked away for the season beneath a blanket of manure, so plentiful here, a pity my crops can not be so.
I prepare it all in anticipation of what will be, yet I wonder if there will be a next year. I look at these beds, this garden, this soil, and wonder how long it will take to return to the earth from which it all came, to turn fallow and free and forget about my futile attempts.
And still, what can I do but try?