Well, here it is. We have finally hit bottom in the race towards darkness. All the whooshing sounds as the light has been sucked out of our hemisphere and into the other one have stopped. It is quiet now, while we are waiting, resting. We are at the pause, the point in the arc where we are suspended, like a ball thrown into the air which stands perfectly still for that fragile moment before beginning its descent. After this pause the vessel of the day will, gradually at first, then ever faster, re-fill with glorious light. Our bodies will find warmth again, our eyes will feast on growth, color and form. The now-quiet woods will echo with sound: birds carving out territory, luring mates, repelling foes, signaling danger. The wind, thin in the winter, will have leaves again to rustle, while the rain will have an infinity of surfaces upon which to patter. The frogs will croak their exultation in spring rain and filling vernal pools, looking for sex and the immortality of their DNA.
If anticipation is the acme of experience, then this is indeed the best of seasons in the garden, in the woods, for all experience still lies ahead. I lie awake in the pre-dawn darkness, counting my still-dormant hellebores no less greedily than a miser counts his money. My plants grow in my mind, doubling, tripling in height and bulk in the spring and summer to come. My excitement is boundless, in part because it is so abstract. My mental hostas are not plagued by slugs, my dream ligularias never go dry and limp. All is still perfection in the garden that now lies under the earth, waiting for its cues to emerge into reality and, thus, imperfection.
The time I spend in the garden, now, is with plants that live in suspended animation: not eating, not drinking, barely breathing. My time is invested in outcomes that will emerge months from now, and often only for the briefest moment. The huge clump of bright white phlox will be exquisite, barring rain, wind, excessive heat, or even a blast from a misplaced hose. Now my plants are only empty shells of possibility which I fill with hopes and dreams. I am the gardener of a shadow garden, as I tenderly plant lumps of soil, and carefully arrange leafless stems and wizened tendrils. Like the plants I barely function at this time of year. The cold grips my hands, penetrating every combination of gloves that I try. And since I only let myself go outside once indoor chores are tolerably under control I seldom have very much time before I am chased out of the garden by the darkness. Like my plants the gardener I am will emerge with the advancing light. Each day will find more to do, and more time in which to do it. And, also like my plants, I will emerge to imperfection: to clumsiness, forgetfulness, laziness, ignorance and carelessness. These are the water-spots, frost-nips and slug chomps of my skill as a gardener. So I, for one, will enjoy this fantasy time, when my garden and I are always polished, always at that perfect May dawn, and then, energized by that hope and expectation, I will be propelled into a bright, new year.
Happy Winter Solstice, everybody.