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Deadheading on the Fourth of July

July 5, 2016

There is a kind of pleasure in gardening on a hot, steamy day after a week of rain, not because the body is comfortable, but because once you get past the sauna-like atmosphere as you wade into a sea of daylilies to weed and deadhead, you find a kind of glory in playing God. In your primeval, swampy, steamy garden, you begin to believe you have complete control to change the world. Reaching down into the earth, you experience the rare pleasure of feeling the tenacious roots of weeds yielding easily. The clinging, red, North Carolina clay even gives up Bermuda grass roots after several days of soaking rains—a miracle if ever I saw one.

Gardening time means thinking time. It is best not to contemplate the slushy mud at your feet or the mosquitoes feasting on your flesh, but on the world you are creating and re-creating. Chopping off a spent daylily bloom suddenly brightens the garden, pulling out a clump of crabgrass reveals a lovely chocolaty backdrop for your Shasta Daisies to shine. You see the asters begin to breathe as you clear away the suffocating pigweed. Yes, that must be what God feels like when He looks down and sees what He has set in motion.

There is a difference between us and God. When we plant a garden, we do not set things to spinning and then step back to observe how free will might play out. No, we keep our hands right down in that mud, moving our creation around, changing, pruning, thinning, deadheading. We can’t leave well enough alone and let our garden get itself into a right proper mess, with plants stepping out of their boundaries, taking over more vulnerable beauties, crowding, littering, running rampant, out of control. We determinedly pull and pluck, dig and plant, convinced that we eventually will eradicate all the weeds, we will keep the verbena to a respectable height and the black-eyed Susans vertical. Once we get the right combination of nutrition, nothing will flop over, sprawling into the pathways. Disease and pests will find an impermeable barrier at the edge of our yards. Bunnies are allowed, but they can’t eat the phlox. Or the hosta.  We strive for perfection, even when we prefer our perfection to look untamed. I like a riot of colors, a variety of heights and breadths, a garden that looks wild and exuberant, but is weed-free, disease-free, flop free, and not too rambunctious. In other words, I tell it: be wild and full of abandon, but mind your manners. Constrain your enthusiasm. Don’t elbow your neighbors. You know, that kind of wild and full of abandon. Messy, but pretty, like Julia Robert’s hair the morning after.

As I clip, pull, and sweat, I find myself wishing that God would come garden in us more. It seems He has wantonly scattered Life without even looking to see where things landed. He sends the rain and the sunshine at sometimes-odd intervals, enough to generally sustain the Life He began, but even those are capricious, sometimes as destructive as they are nourishing. It’s as if He just threw everything, the robust and the delicate, the beautiful and the vile, the mannerly and the boorish onto the empty field, then stood back, keeping His hands off to let us run amuck as we choose. I am reminded of the parable about the seeds falling on good ground, on hard ground, and amid the weeds. Only the seeds that fall on good, clean, fertile ground take root and bear fruit. The unlucky ones are doomed to wither without ever fulfilling their destiny. Why? Is this a form of predestination? Or is it a parable of how our reckless exercise of free will lands us in a barren and desolate place?

I can’t answer those theological questions. I can only ask them as I ponder whether or not to dig out the excess daylilies now or wait until the fall, or if I should go ahead and chop down those stalks that still have one unopened bud on them, knowing that tomorrow it will be completely spent and I will have to brave the mosquitoes and spiders to wade back into the mass to do it then. (Always, I decide to let the last bloom have its day. It kills me to waste a single day of daylily glory. Roses, too. I can’t bring myself to lop off a huge mass of spent blooms if there is a single unopened bud left in the middle.)

So, in the cauldron of summer, when it is hot, muggy, mosquito infested, and squishy underfoot, I weed and deadhead and ponder the mysteries of life and eternity, and become the kind of god I wish Our God would be sometimes—controlling His Creation, making it nicer, cleaner, tidier, but with the illusion that we are completely free to live as we choose. I impose my will on my subjects, for a little while, at least, telling myself that it is getting closer to perfection because of my hard work. And then I step away for a moment. When I look again, I see that, in fact, I have not succeeded at all. Nature is nothing, if not Free Will. I suppose that God, in His wisdom, has set Free Will as one of the laws of the universe. It also seems that we humans want free will all to ourselves. I want to do what I want to do, but I also want others to do what I want them to do. The madness of it is, I actually believe that eventually, I will be able to impose my will on my creation, and my little Eden will bow to it.

I would write more, but I see that the beautyberry bush has grown so big that it is crowding out the rose beside it. That’s just as well. The rose would look better if I move it between the birdbath and the purple irises. Time to go play god again.

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