Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Garden as Protection from News

Monarchs are beginning to return to Southern Oregon, and this beauty loves the Mexican sunflowers. Me too. Until I took this photo I had NO IDEA about the polka dots! 
The daily news, you may have noticed, tends strongly toward darkness. It relentlessly dumps depression-inducing fodder into the national gut, although I'm certain people in other countries experience a similar dyspeptic diet of media reports.

Stories in the current news cycle are horrifying. Syria, Gaza, ebola, the continuing maddening idiocy at our national capital, children left in hot cars. And in my community, and probably in yours, domestic violence, child abuse, hunger,  drug addiction and the accompanying hopelessness and crime. On it goes. If you live outside the USA and think we're immune, we're not. 

Years ago, as a 30-something columnist, I wrote a piece about constructing a "news shield" when the radio alarm startled me awake. If I was going to get up, go to work, raise children, go about daily life, then I couldn't afford to dwell on terrible situations over which I had zero control.

Then it was starving Ethiopians, and I still can conjure the mind-numbing image of an emaciated infant suckling  a skeletal mother's dry teat.  It took one minute to find the photo,  the one that's haunted me. Sorry.

Photo credit: Don McCullin
Later it was Hutus and Tutsis in full-on slaughter. I  forget who was doing the murdering, and who was being tortured, dismembered, burned, and dislocated. Children ripped from mothers' arms and killed before their horrified eyes. This sort of  unfathomable heartlessness continues. We hear all about it on the news.

There is no end. I am helpless to do anything but toss a few dollars into charities such as Mercy Corps, Adopt a Village Guatemala, Women's Crisis Support Team and others. I also try to be generous and forgiving, thinking that I may add some positive vibes to the uncaring universe.
But nothing changes. I continue to donate because, perhaps, a sponsored child will be delivered from a hopeless life or a violence prevention program will lead a teenager to an aha! moment. Or a violated woman will regain her inner strength and move on to a productive life, taking her children down a better road.

But the older I get, the less hope I have. I'm still oddly optimistic, but that is despite the fact that I see I'm wrong. A lifetime of thinking the best, seeing the best, wishing and hoping for the best, is hard to shake. And I don't really want to, but damn.  I think it was David Byrne who penned this line, Same as it ever was....same as it ever was. Or in the Bible, which you will probably never see me quote again, there's this verse:

Ecclesiastes 1:9New International Version (NIV)

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
That's why it's so important to create beauty, calm, and sanctuary in your own life.  It could be art or music that whisks you beyond the daily news  and the dregs and demons in your own heart. It could be food or dogs or baseball or birds. It could be anything, as long as it puts you in the calm centered moment, not a second before or a second after. In the moment. Nothing else exists.

I've discovered a few things that put me there and cancel the news.  Chief among them is the fresh innocence of the natural world, in wilderness, of course, but also, and especially, in our garden. Our garden, which is so accessible and never disappoints. I've been taking photos out there for years. A few of my favorites are below.  Maybe they'll make you forget about the world's horrors for a moment, after I so rudely reminded you with that starving mother/child photo. 
Volunteer cosmos reappear every summer all over the garden. 
A finch couple communes in the bachelor buttons.

Six frantic red wing blackbirds feast on sunflowers, with another dozen feeding nearby.
A swallow, with young mouths to feed, surveys the garden.
Spring lilies.
A summer of 15-foot sunflowers, 2009.  We have one huge specimen this year.
We don't eat leeks, but love the flowers, here just emerging in late spring.
The leeks in full flower. 
Climbing roses cross our new garden gate. 
As soon as the frost melts, this kale will be good to go.
It takes a lot of energy for a plant to grow a three-pound squash four feet off the ground. 
The typical garden spider from a few years ago. I have yet to see one this year.
Old-fashioned climbing rose.
House framed by fecundity a few years ago before a new paint job. The beans! 
Flowers are taking more and more space. Good thing they can't be canned.
I think sometimes I might tire of sunflowers, but not yet. In addition to being gorgeous, they are major bird and bee magnets.

Zucchinis are inglorious, but so prolific and vigorous.
It's all about the light.
I love the textures and the colors and the tangled wildness.
A swallowtail butterfly enjoys echinacea.  

Just one more sunflower picture. They always make me sigh and smile and be glad in the moment.

Finches have the same effect, except when they're demolishing chard and beets.

If you've made it this far, thanks. I need to stop now because I could go on and on. I hope you have your own thing that narrows your focus for a moment and creates stillness and calm and a sense of what's right with the world. Because despite all the documented daily evidence to the contrary, I still hang on to the notion that  life is good.