This little blog started from seeds of curiosity about why I became obsessed with my garden. I started writing to find out what was deep in the dirt that spoke to me so joyfully and profoundly that I quit my other creative pursuits. After a lifetime of drawing pictures and moderate success in the amateur art world, I dropped my pencils and looked at the yard and said: This is my canvas. This really matters. No more flat static surfaces, fixed and unchanging on a gallery wall; it’s time to get messy.
I hear voices in the garden. They speak wordlessly and passionately about the stuff the earth is made of. It’s the same stuff you and I are made of, but as humans we too often pretend we’re something else. I think it’s possible every war and atrocity perpetrated throughout human history is a result of this self-deception, and certainly every catastrophic environmental disaster is. When we look clearly at ourselves, we find our roots and origins in the complex inter-related biological systems and events of the past and present earth. Simply stated, humans are part of the whole.
Working in the garden means working with history. As I was digging, I suspected I heard the voices of unnamed goddesses long erased by patriarchal empires. I thought about the part of the Grimm’s version of Cinderella I read as a child that fascinated me most: Cinderella’s mother is dead, and Cinderella grows a tree on her mother’s grave where the birds bring her all the gifts she needs to overcome adversity. With a little research into fairy tales, I discovered Cinderella tales may originate in the oral traditions of matriarchal cultures, and in the old tales the prince is a beast she civilizes rather than her savior. The prince is her prize, and Cinderella saves herself with the powers she gains from her dead gift-bearing mother.
In folklore studies, the dead gift-bearing mother is, as we say in Detroit, a Thing. She’s been in my mind since I first read Cinderella when I was a child, and I’m delighted to finally learn her name. She is most certainly out there in the garden, in the dirt and in the compost where death and transformation enact a never-ending comic/tragic cycle. Working with the goddess is leading me down the impractical path of writing my own fairy tales, and I’ve written five so far. My first attempt was posted here last summer, called The Fly And The Rose. It’s the first piece of fiction I ever tried. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great.
The other stories I’m writing have less literal gardening content, and in fact deal with topics like child abuse, kidnapping, same-sex marriage, and suicide. Fairy tale worlds don’t have the kind of rules that apply to our everyday world, so I am taking many liberties with reality. As for happy endings, they are primarily a myth invented by Disney’s commercialized versions of fairy tales, and reading older versions of stories opens doors to more complicated and mysterious endings. If I have piqued your interest in fairy tales, I recommend reading Jack Zipes translation of the Grimm’s tales and any of his scholarly books. He’s kind of my hero right now. If I succeed in refining my fairy tales into publishable form, maybe he will write the introduction to my book. I mean a girl can dream, can’t she?
This time of year I should be planning my veggie garden, lusting after new seeds, and obsessing about spring bulbs. But outside the world is still brutally white and frozen, and I think I have worked so hard on the garden in the past few years that in many ways it can take care of itself. It’s established enough to no longer need coddling. Maybe the veggies can go in randomly. Maybe I won’t plan. Maybe this year I’ll sit back and be still more often, and lie down in the grass and listen to the stories the garden wants to tell me.