A year has passed, and tonight we will usher in a new one. If there is a tree of life, tonight its trunk gets another ring.
I was recently spending some quiet time in an old cemetery- not a funeral park, but an actual old cemetery – unplanned, diverse, a willy-nilly compilation of headstones and memorial statuary. There was no rolling carpet of lawn, it was all clover and different types of seeded grass, with daffodils and other spring bulbs making an extra early appearance in cool, temperate California.
People plant around these graves on occasion; something to honor the loved one who passed, I imagine. Maybe a favorite shrub, or flower – but more often than not it is trees. Under the canopies of the native oaks and sycamores there live an odd assortment of willows, cedars, junipers, fruit trees, and pines. The pines must have been Christmas trees, I think – or maybe the sentiment of planting an evergreen tree to honor the recently passed explains the large number of conifers planted on the graves.
These trees of bereavement are planted too close to the trunks of the existing natives, and they shoot up through the broad canopies like exclamation points, or they contort themselves to grow into the places where the branching of the oaks open up – a strange interpretive dance of wood and leaf.
The graves are disturbed by the growth of the trees – the thoughtful, heartfelt planting was probably done through tears, and nobody was thinking that the roots would grow and crack the headstone, or maybe topple it. I imagine the planters were thinking of the spirit of their loved one giving a little bit of themselves to the tree, and the tree will hold their essence in a living, visible form – something that can be seen and touched.
This impulse to plant something important in memory of loved ones moved me – it is the need to see the circle of life manifest in a basic, almost primal way. The act of burial is a magical act – we bury something in soil and it changes, it decomposes and becomes the stuff of new life. We plant our seeds in the ground and they thrill us with their transformation.
I hope the New Year brings the opportunity to garden with joy. And even if things will be planted in memorium, I hope we can all take comfort in the fact that we are gardening in collaboration with something grand, and every time we put something in the ground and wait for its transformation, we are shaking hands with the divine.
Happy New Year, Gardeners and Ranters! More in 2015!