The axis has shifted once again in the northern hemisphere, bringing an end to winter\s cold and darkness, and replacing it with balance and for a brief day, equality. It is difficult to say precisely what about March I love so much; a certain quality to the air, still cool but no longer cold, the wind, with its promise of change, days which are overcast but without rain, giving only cool greens, browns and light greys as a soothing balm to my soul. I love the smell of the earth now, full of last autumn’s composting leaves and new green sprouting from underneath them. There is a hushed quality to March, as if Nature is drawing in an enormous, life-filled breath, which She will undoubtedly exhale with a vengeance once Spring arrives in force. But until then, She builds slowly, quietly; each day another new thing sprouts up or unfurls, the first buds appear on trees, the song birds sing earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings. Insects wake up and scurry beneath the leaves and twigs.
Maybe it is because of this ‘almost but not quite yet’ attitude that I love March (and its seasonal counterpart, October) the best. The week of the Vernal Equinox feels exactly like what it is, the balance of Nature’s forces. Yin and yang. Dark and light. Day and night. Masculine and Feminine. Salty and sweet. Enthusiastic and indifferent. Sacred and profane. The opposites held in balance by Nature for a brief, wonderous instant.
As you have probably guessed, I am a gardener. I can’t help it, it is impossible for me to resist the urge to prune, clean and make the garden ready for the growing season again. There were years of my life when I deliberated long over peas and string beans, poppies and cosmos, kale and chard. Not these past two springs in Denmark, however. The garden of our rented apartment is long and wildly overgrown from years of neglect. The most care anyone takes is the loathsome task of mowing the grass which grows thickly in summer, matted and nearly impossible to cut once it gets too tall. The grass area is surrounded on three sides by bushes, trees and shrubs which have long had the luxury of growing wild. My self-created mission, owing to my inherent gardening tendencies, is to slowly combat the ravages of uncontrolled wildness, and give some kind of shape and beauty to this crazily wild and overgrown sanctuary.
As all of us who own gardening gloves and a pair of pruners know, March is the window of opportunity to get out there and work! And so, off and on during the past two weeks, I have worked. The first day, as I usually do each year, my zeal for pruning overcame me and I worked with bent back and pruners in hand for longer than I should have, landing me on my back for much of that evening and into the next day. The price for glory, I guess. After that, my body remembered to inform me when I stayed out too long. Always pushing the edge of too much, because once I get into the rhythm of it among the branches, brown leaves, twigs, crocuses and snowdrops which keep me company as I prune, pull and gather the dead and unwanted, it becomes a kind of meditation which is difficult to stop.
The pruning away of the dead and unwanted also becomes a stark metaphor for one’s life. Here is an example. There is one area of the garden which has a tree of some sort that is completely covered over with two kinds of ivy, obscuring the actual tree underneath so that I cannot really tell if it is even alive. Close by this ivy-structure, is another tree (which I have decided is a type of red hawthorn), is also totally wild and a real mess. Ivy grows around its trunk and up some of its branches, though not in such a choking, all-encompassing way as its neighboring host tree. Last spring I made a first attempt to get rid of the ivy growing up this tree, and made a good dent into the massive ivy covering the ground around it. That’s as far as I got last year. I stood in front of the overgrown tree again, contemplating how to begin the attack. Yes, it really is a kind of attack I am waging on the ivy mass, there is just no other way to approach it.
As much as I love Nature, the ivy plant is an invasive, parasitic plant which thrives on taking over and choking the life out of the other species it encounters as it grows. (In this case, both the original, now obscured host tree, and the hawthorn tree near it.) My offensive, warrior self came forward, pruner in hand as my weapon of choice, and I began to hack, pull, snip and cut my way through the massive vines which stood between me and the hawthorn tree. As I worked my way through vine after vine, it became a meditation on how a person’s life works. There are places in a life, as in the garden, when things become so thick and tangled and incomprehensible, that there is nothing one can do except to take up some kind of implement and begin to cut, chop and otherwise hack ones’ way through the mess. The vines grew from top to bottom and bottom to top. After some concentrated, diligent work time, I began to see that I was making a dent in the ivy, and creating a kind of hollow in its overgrown, tangled mass. There was a small clearing now, a little space between the host and the hawthorn. A beginning of order, a possibility for beauty once more.
There is much more work to be done in that section of the garden, and the odds of eliminating the ivy altogether are more or less impossible, at least with my level of energy and implements available. Still, I have hope. I believe that with several more hours of diligence, I can at least eliminate the biggest amount of ivy from the hawthorn, and also take up a lot more from the ground beneath. This will go a long way towards controlling the ivy’s untamed running amok which it has enjoyed for so long. So that next spring, there will perhaps be less ivy and more tree to enjoy looking at. It’s not so much about wanting to control nature. I know so well that is impossible. It is more about the desire to help shape it, to give it a kind of room and space to grow, to become even more beautiful than it is when left to its own. It is an old, old story, humans’ desire to take what is already there and improve it, make it more shapely, and yes, more tame. Tame, yes I did say that. But what that means and implies, remains for another day’s blog.