Growth and Decay


"Garden as though you will live forever."         - William Kent

If I want to plant the peonies just there, a clod of earth the size of a pasta pot will have to be dug from the ground in front of me and shifted towards my left. I’ve forgotten my gardening gloves, of course. But with a fat trowel and well-mulched earth this will be easy, and there is a cold bottle of lager to be drunk when the job is done.

Each year on the twenty-forth of May weekend my mother brought home flaccid petunias in the colors of the Avon makeup palette.  Bedding plants were expensive, so Mom bought the hardiest for the Canadian climate and planted them a foot apart. She said they’d fill in, but they didn’t, and in August our yard still looked like a cross-stitched dirt pillow.

I helped her only when I could not escape the house. We chipped at the soil until was a sort of dent, filled it with a petunia, bid it Godspeed and moved 12” to the left. “Plonk’em in!” my mother commanded. I had only one rule: never touch worms for my entire life. It was written it down in my journal and signed. If the earth wiggled and glistened I moved out of its way.

The earth gives off a different scent when you get older, full of the smell of memory --  the metallic whiff of fuel as trains pass, the yeasty smell of autumn leaves. Your mother no longer makes any sound at all. Children you once lay next to in the grass (you slightly frightened for reasons you cannot explain) have grown into adults who hate to go outside. You have all the time you want to cover the earth with ornamental grasses and flowers, to tie them to stakes of bamboo, and sometimes to move a bush from here to there and feel proud when the roots settle and thrive.

My nails are black from scrounging in the earth. The peonies planted today will soon have blooms striped like pink peppermints. I pick up something at the periphery of the hole. It's a worm, the shape of a question mark, and I send it sailing over the grass. It was dry, not slimy; only an obstacle. I don't even rub my hands. It is time to let go of a lot of sworn things, and the worm is only the first.