Season of Mists . . .
Last week I mentioned that there was a breath of autumn in the air. Although it is still quite warm during the day, when the wind blows it bears a distinct chill. The plants are already reacting as they can: their whole demeanor has changed, as they rush to put forth myriad flowers which—if we have a warm September—just might make fruit. This happened last year, but last year we had a wet, cold summer with only a week or so warm weather. This year we had a cold, late spring, so that the growing season has been very short indeed, as short as Scotland's in a normal year.
As the demands of research become greater, I have begun to realise that I can't spend as much time wrestling with seeds and seedlings as I have in other years. Anyway, with some plants—such as sweet peas—the plants I get from the garden centre are far and away better than those I start from seed. This year perhaps I planted the seeds too early; the ones I bought are still producing a profusion of long-stemmed flowers. Now that the weather has cooled off a bit, their fragrance has returned.
Gardening is like the rest of life: you never stop learning. Each year is unique; each year you learn to adapt or else run the risk of losing the fruit or flowers. Although it is almost a cliché thanks to TV 'experts', each plant, even each leaf and blossom, is unique. Until you spend time quietly among growing things, the reality of this knowledge has no way of sinking in. Someone once told me that the most important element in gardening was to look at the plants. Early morning and evening, a slow walk through the garden will tell you far more about how they are faring and what they need than anything else. Gardening may be 'scientific' in some circles, but any gardener who pays attention and is willing to say so will tell you that much of growing fruits and flowers is less about science and far more about listening and observing.
I've probably said this before, but there's an analogy to fishing: some people catch a lot of fish, and some people rarely catch anything at all. From childhood, on the rare occasions the opportunity arose, I caught fish. In Alaska people would ask, 'how do you catch so many fish?' At a loss to reply, I would say, 'you have to listen to the fish.' Of course many of the people who asked thought I was loony, but it's true.
Benedict of Nursia understood this: the first word of his rule is 'Listen!' Some writers make a lot of interior 'vision' (which, remember, is governed by the paradoxical meanings of deep mind, which means that the less visual the more seen), but vision is often a metaphor for the ear of the heart. The boy Samuel's vision is one of the most obvious examples in the bible.
And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days: there was no open vision.
And it came to pass at that time when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see.
And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep
That the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, Here am I. (I Sam. 3:1-4).
. . . And Samuel grew . . . and let none of [the Lord's] words fall to the ground.
Gardening, of course, is precisely letting God's words fall to the ground—each seed is a word—but the care and nurture of the plants that emerge are words that are silently gathered in the basket of the heart where they never wither or fade.