My garden is a small part of what I consider home. Home is the high mountains rising up in all directions and framing the huge valley with various watersheds winding towards the Rio Grande. This open space, with the vistas I know with my eyes closed and the trails I have followed in all seasons, is my home.
Pretty as it is, this is a landscape that has been severely altered and damaged in the last few centuries. Like so many things in the West, and, I suspect, landscapes everywhere, it is close to impossible to tell what is “natural” and what is a remnant of a once intact ecosystem.
The other defining feature of my home ground is the river. Once free-flowing and healthy, today it’s dry as a bone save for what the city water managers decide to release from the reservoir that supplies this town with its drinking water. The river today is a deep, severely eroded ditch largely denuded of plant and animal life, and heartbreaking to behold. Despite this, we walk it almost daily. It doesn’t always run with water, but contains the flow of our days.
I say all this as a preface to my garden post, as a bit of grounding that will help you to see why I consider nurturing this small piece of land an act of healing. For years my garden has suffered because of my stinginess with water. I couldn’t justify watering a few lettuce plants at the cost of the river. My efforts at conservation yielded not much more than bitter greens. The city gives saved water to developers, the cycle of overuse continues. Now I see watering this land as an integral part of restoring the river. Water soaks through my rich soil, trickling back into the water table. The water I use nurtures a kind of ecology, devised by me, yes, in a sort of hit or miss way, but an ecology nonetheless. It sustains insects, bees, birds, and abundant plant life. It is a patch of soil that is fed and cared for rather than stripped and neglected.
Here’s the huge pathway that used to divide two of my garden beds. (Both of which were in the shade, as it happens.) I spent this spring turning it into fertile beds. Which brings me to another kind of healing–the gift that comes from regular connection with the land. From relating to it in the intimate way that is the gardener’s–touching, digging, sowing, watering, harvesting, smelling, sensing. From the give and take of energy exchanged. From the mutual care-taking that happens when one eats food grown from the soil one has fed. This is healing of another kind of cultural wound, the kind that comes from disconnection with natural cycles, removal from food production, and an acceptance of the loss to human and plant communities that is its inevitable result.
The next level of healing that takes place in the humble garden is of the broken system we are so entrenched in–the system that keeps us reliant on imported food, petroleum powered corporate agriculture, and an economic system that doesn’t aid our communities. At the same time we are shut off from our neighbors, our land, our water supply, and our own resourcefulness. It’s a question of dependency on the System vs. interdependence with Place.
So that’s why I water my garden now. By hand, often, and thoroughly. That’s why I turn kitchen scraps into black gold, and keep on trying. It doesn’t always yield what I hope for. But at the same time it yields so much more.
And each year we become a little more whole, my land and I.