When I purchased my home in Asheville 3 months ago, along with a darling little cottage came an acre of beautiful gardens on the slope behind my house, complete with a gorgeous waterfall created by the previous owners. It was impossible not to fall in love with this place. Hook, line and sinker, I was a goner. Where do I sign? The sale went quickly.
I hadn’t been here but a couple of weeks, however, before the shadow of this great grace began to present. Few people would be as naive as I was about what is entailed in caring for these gardens. In negotiation for the purchase, a for sale by owner property, I explained to them that I know nothing about gardening. I was married to a landscape contractor for 20 years who for the length of our time together had his crew come in and take care of everything. During those years I was working two jobs and raising children, and happy not to have to even think about that part of the responsibility in home ownership. When I moved to the mountain I took care of my 6 1/2 acres, but those weren’t gardens – it was wild land. I bought a tractor and mowed it myself, and otherwise had only a tiny bed for herbs, tomatoes and a few flowers.
The owner told me that this garden is low maintenance; it really only requires that you put down mulch every couple of years. She probably easily assumed that anyone’s mind would be able to fill in the blanks – that hours and hours of weeding, pruning, dead-heading, thinning the overgrowth, and on and on would also be included. Sadly that was not the case for me. I thought, “Ok, mulch every couple of years and I get to live in Disneyland, garden-wise.”
Oops. I moved in at the end of April. Summer hadn’t even started. With all the rain we have had it wasn’t long before the weed population threatened to take over everything. And every other undone garden thing began glaring at me – as if to say, you idiot! I was a deer in the headlights. I couldn’t sleep for a month. I thought I had made a huge mistake, and felt very down on myself about it. How could anyone be that naive? If I were in a better situation financially I could just hire someone to do it all, but that is not my circumstance at the moment. There is so much to learn I feel a little like a pre-schooler suddenly thrust into a Ph.D. program. Sitting to just enjoy the property became barely possible.
And so, rather than sell the place, cut and run, or continue to wallow in fear and despair, I decided I had to do the only thing I DO know how to do. Create a ritual. Ritual calls in the great powers; it is the language that connects mere humans with the caring and wise invisible resources who are just waiting for us to engage with them so that they can assist. Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door will open. Those principles are at work in ritual well conceived.
I did not feel bonded to this place. Like a newborn who is not bonding with mother, it is a dangerous situation. I felt alien. I didn’t know how to engage. I truly believe that there is a spirit to every place, and spirits that inhabit it – devas, plant spirits, elementals, angels, fairies and the like – but I didn’t feel remotely conversant with them. How do I open myself to the conversation, introduce myself to them, tell them my situation and ask to become an active part of this community of life? I need desperately to bond, to feel a sense of belonging, to care for the land and let it care for me.
The idea came in a flash; begin a 40-day ritual. 40-day rituals are spoken of in nearly every spiritual tradition. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days before he began his ministry. All scriptures are rife with such stories. Indigenous people say, “You must feed the holy;” make food offerings to the land, spirits and the ancestors. So I decided to go out in ritual mode every day for 40 days and make offerings, pray to know and be known by those who live with me in this place, and then look about and see what comes for me to do. Try not to think about the never-endingness of what there is to do, and how little I know about it all, but just do something, whatever shows itself.
The first day I was shoveling dirt that had fallen down the hill in the torrential rain. The next I was cutting back plants that had already bloomed, someone had pointed out to me which ones needed that. The next it was another thing, the next another. Each act is a prayer. One day I sat with the big tree in front, planted a crystal under its root, and just hung out with it. Another I got a blanket and lay on the land and watched the life buzzing all over it – wild turkeys, bunnies, butterflies, birds, bugs. Some days treasures are delivered – the gorgeous shell of a turtle who died, the luminous body of an expired butterfly, beautiful feathers.
We’re bonding. It is happening. I don’t know what is ahead or how it will all get done, but I’m not going to let the worry and anxiety that was threatening my sanity to intrude on this ritual. It’s a beginning. Adventure is ahead, and I am readier to embark. Ritual is good. I am grateful.