I am sat at my laptop staring at the garden trying to find the words. The garden is teeming with life, but I am thinking about death.
I get up and go out into the grey mizzle seeking… something. Inspiration? Comfort. The connecting threads that make sense of it all, the hyphae of many thousands of interconnected lives being lived around mine, to which mine is incidental. These other lives that deprioritise me, and in that bruising shift from centre of existence to mere participant in a collective beat of living, my madly limited human mind briefly gets a sense of this bigger whole to which I belong.
The mizzle changes to rain now, and the insects take shelter in the open umbrellas of flowers, each nectaroscordum skirt dressing a bee’s fuzzy bottom. On the grass path between the veg beds, a giant slug slowly makes its way to something in the grass. I stoop to look more closely: there is a mouse here, out in the open, at this time of day. My first thought is that it must be a casualty of the cat, but then it moves. It is alive, or only just.
I pick the soft, tiny creature up and cup it in my palm. A huge wave of tenderness crashes over me. Its warm body seems uninjured, but it heaves and gasps on my palm. It appears that it cannot breathe.
Two years ago George Floyd lost his life, unable to breathe as a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. Two years later I find myself still trying to make sense of it. The madness runs so deep. Still corrosive pools of horror in the blackest corners of our minds.
The rain eases. I lay the tiny body hovering on the cusp of life or death under the shelter of the hedge with a wish that whatever becomes of it next will be in the natural cycle of things, in the ongoing service of collective life. I walk to the stream to wash my hands. A cold purification. The water sparkles, shattered beams of light dance across the surface. The darkest pools reflect the most light.
The light shines on a bed rising above me; my heart sinks to view it. Despite my attempts to clear and plant it last spring, in my neglect this year it has reverted to a weedy mess. And yet, in the bruising shift from my ideas of what belonged in that space to acceptance of what is at home there, it is beautiful.
Raspberry canes romp at the back, a weed in the space, but with luck we shall have much fruit this year. The wild strawberries have carpeted the ground and already bright red jewels glisten under their leaves. Above them, clumps of wild cranesbill hold up fuchsia pink flowers – a brighter pink than the plant ID apps show me, as if they know their audience – vivid pointillistic colour against self seeded lady’s mantle and Japanese anemone. A few of the plants that I introduced are still there: a couple of roses. Small and immature, uprooted violently from other parts of the garden last autumn, so no expectations of blooms this year. But they are in full leaf, and look happy enough among their companions. Last night we added another, a beast of a beauty uprooted from a neighbour’s garden. The wrong time of year for transplanting a rose that was already in bloom. But I look at the life flourishing around it, and I have faith.
The garden’s life is incidental to mine, and yet inextricably bound up with it. This particular bed’s soil was barren until last spring, before my intervention. This year the space is wildly abundant, well beyond my control. My husband thinks of logical explanations for this pattern that keeps repeating itself throughout the garden. The rhododendron in alkaline soil that did not flower at all in our first year, but this year was covered in blooms. The dying magnolia stellata that greeted this spring with a constellation of stars. The previously bare lilac that currently almost groans beneath its redolent weight. I cannot credit skill for these changes – this is my first English garden, I garden with little knowledge, only instinct and love. Perhaps, he says, perhaps there was weedkiller or some other toxin in the soil that has finally been washed out?
Perhaps. And yet one thing rings again and again in my mind. When I take my limited body and offer some of my life to the garden, the garden reciprocates with life of its own. When I offer my love to the garden, the garden loves me back.
Such a tender thought; sudden tears well as it rises. The rain falls more heavily again. My tears at the toxic world beyond mingle with the rain running down my cheek and somewhere a dark pool in a corner of my mind eddies and stirs as the flow begins to wash the poison out.