Delight in Desolation: Does Admiring a Meadow Heal the Heart?
On the General Cussedness of Life as told in Meadows and Metaphors
On Wednesdays the mowers come. Blades gnash the lawn into submission. Weedwhackers hew harsh, hard lines at the boundary between the prim, well-mannered turf and the unruly Memorial Meadow. Some meadow flowers get mangled in the process. Hot gasoline-fueled exhaust pipes burn fragile foliage.
Meadows don’t love machines. That particular Wednesday, mine looked affronted. Stand-offish. It cast withering looks at me, intact stalks sorrowfully supporting the fallen, begging me to Do Something.
I didn’t want to do anything for it. I wanted it to do something for me. I came to it looking for comfort after a maddening day. And here I am again.
I know without asking what the meadow wants. It covets the whole yard. It cares nothing for hosting croquet or badminton games, cosseting bare feet padding to the hot tub, or bearing picnic blankets.
It feels it has the right to more space, since it amuses the bees, feeds the birds, holds the soils, delights the senses, and carries the symbolic job I gave it of holding the souls of thousands upon thousands of people who have died from COVID-19 during the past two years.
It has a point. And that day, I spied one black-eyed Susan being upheld by four of its smaller family members, a frail petal clinging to a blade of grass. The sight enraged me. I probably needed to rage, and I almost aimed that ire in a tearful call to growl at the landscaper.
I did not. I put the phone down. (I might have thrown it.)
Today, feeling again the need for my garden to do something for my spirit, my feet, instead, are cloaked in mud. I’m torn among options. Do I give up on the meadow? It’s an abject failure. With under 300,000 seeds invested, I am no closer to visualizing the number of people who have died in our country since planting it.
Do I let it take over everything? I could save on all the gas and gunk used to maintain the lawn. But that won’t save my project. Even if I let the meadow take the whole yard, I have no room to plant 1 million seeds. And my spirit needs more beauty than the mess before me in this moment.
Do I call for an early clean up? On this sodden Spring day, though speckled with a smattering of Chionodoxa forbesii, most of the meadow looks dead, dried, messy. I know I’m looking at the winter habitat of butterflies, bees, and beneficial insects. Yet, a crisp line between the monoculture lawn and the wildness of the meadow might be the only control I have left in this mad world. I don’t want to give that up.
And is the beauty worth wading through this sloppy thicket for? I planted hundreds of species, but raised mostly school-bus yellow flowers. I don’t want a yard full of one color! Diversity was the goal, not monoculture!
I know, I know… it takes three years for some of the perennials to bloom. And yes, I smiled when Monarda poked its rose-dyed Phyllis Diller head up through all that yellow.
It agitates me that a smartweed firmly established itself in the sunnier edge of the meadow, choked out the larkspur, and grew to eyebrow height.
And who invited the pokeweed? Yeah, yeah. It’s a native, and the songbirds love it. But it’s bossy and poisonous! I didn’t want poisonous plants to take root here.
Speaking of poison, what’s with the Solanum dulcamara? (bittersweet nightshade when it’s at home)
I’m just in a mood. Remembering. Surrounded by dead stuff.
I sat heavily that day on the edge of the raised veggie garden, and stared at the ocean without seeing it. My mood was blacker than the nightshade blossoms, darker than the storm-pregnant sky.
Surf sounds surged, signaling a turning of the tide. I stood up and watched it begin its advance. The seaweed and monarda mingled fragrances with incoming tide and storm. The balmy air calmed me a bit.
It was not the meadow’s fault that one of my studio mates had decided to go without a vaccine or a mask. The meadow cannot be blamed for this person’s decision to stand talking with me for fifteen minutes — unmasked — knowing I was at high risk, knowing I had just returned to the studio after over a year of virus-enforced retreat for my own safety.
I cannot blame the meadow for pushing to take up more than its allotted space. In our environment, the lawn is the real transgressor. I cannot fault the pokeweed, which at least provides value to others in the community and generally takes no more than it gives.
I yanked it out that day, glad it didn’t burn or kill me in revenge. “Toxic personalities may rule the world, but they don’t have to rule the meadow,” I declared, though the real target of that barb had no chance of hearing me.
Reminded of how healing it felt then, I squelched toward that veggie garden perch planning to sit and listen to the land awaken. Instead, I discovered mud so deep it stole a shoe. I had to fall sideways to escape it. I dropped my phone and the mud ate that too.
Some tall, dried stalks caught me, though, and spared my coat from the mud. I laughed out loud when I recalled that this was a stand of meadow rue.
I don’t really rue the meadow.
The studio story worked out, after all. Motivated by the meadow that soul-searching day, I eventually found a more suitable place where I can hear the ocean while I work.
Everything has its season.
I came to the meadow looking for beauty to ease the ragged edges of a wretched morning. I didn’t find what I was looking for. Still, as I slopped back to the house to clean up and return to work, the mist organized itself. My frustration washed away as a slow rain hissed softly through the dry stalks, on its way to make more mud.
I retrieved my phone from the muck, and called the landscaper. “Please do not clean up the yard too early. And remind the crew to leave kindly edges on the meadow,” I requested. “I might give up on the lawn altogether. I haven’t played croquet in years.”
The meadow whispered its thanks behind my back.