Saturday, May 14, 2011

Step aside

Remember this? Back in October of last year I cracked each head open, peeled apart the individual cloves, and planted each one deep within a manure-rich soil. Down went a thick bed of hay, and then winter arrived, covering the whole garden with an even thicker blanket of snow that didn't fully melt until a month ago

Guess what happened?


Nature never ceases to impress me with its powerful desire to live and multiply. This drive is particularly evident in spring, when everything is racing to make up for lost time.

Some plants seem to want nothing more than good soil and a little protection. They don't need fussing, and in fact they get a little flustered if they sense that they're putting you out at all. Show them their room and they'll be fine. Don't bother trying to carry their bags for them, they'll wave your hand away with a "Just tuck me in here, love, I don't need anything else." Garlic is like that.

And then you have those dastardly little weeds, poking their heads through the soil, thumbing their noses at you as they take advantage of an earthy meal you prepared for another guest. Freeloaders.

As I welcome another season, I'm already reminded how much of gardening is a constant dance between detachment and attentiveness. You can never know for sure what the outcome will be, you can only do your best, learn from things that go wrong, and know that you gave it your best shot.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm a sucker for a cute face

The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival was last weekend. It's an occasion for joyous overwhelm, with tens of thousands of people within one single fairground. Fibers and textures and colors are everywhere. And people. At a certain point, wool blindness takes over and it's simply not possible to see anything clearly anymore. That's when I escape into the sheep barns.

This year I met and fell in love with a certain Lincoln yearling ram. Once his buddies realized I did not come bearing edible gifts, they lost interest. But this guy couldn't get enough love.

As a rule, sheep don't like to be confined in small spaces. They also don't like change, and they certainly don't take great comfort in being suddenly surrounded by crowds of people and other strange sheep. Which is to say that most sheep at these shows are pretty freaked out.

But this guy, for whatever reason, decided I was safe. Even the sweet young redhead responsible for his well-being was a little surprised. "They haven't even been worked with yet," she said, shaking her head. She went off to help her friend in the ring, and I remained.

The more I rubbed his cheek, the more I could feel him relaxing and calming down. So there I stood, rubbing his cheek, feeling those warm puffs of sheep breath on my hand, in what can only be described as a moment. That lasted many moments.

If I'd had room in my suitcase, I promise you I would've taken him home with me. Instead, as it turns out, he's due for a shearing this week. And in a few weeks, a very big box will arrive on my doorstep. Because really, what else could I do?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

If you speak it, they will come

Oh universe, you and your sense of humor.

Within 24 hours of my last optimistic post, the universe responded, "Oh really?" and tested me with a person I already know but whose energy can only be compared to a black hole.

I was struck by how not open I was. Where had the serenity gone? What about that sense of one-ness and the anthill? I felt totally guilty and fraudulent, and I took it as a personal failure.

Then I started to think about boundaries. I think a crucial component of openness is also maintaining one's ability not to be open. If that makes sense.

As true as it is what Lorilee said, how everyone is worth getting to know if only you spend enough time in conversation together to prove it out, with very few exceptions - there will always be those exceptions. As vital as it is to keep trying, it's also important to recognize those people with whom interactions are the equivalent of sitting in a closed garage with the engine running. Such moments, I'm happy to report, are extremely rare. But when they happen, put on your own oxygen mask first.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The pleasure of your company

Lately I've been deriving particular pleasure from the company of others. Not that I'm normally a misanthrope, but...I do tend to spend a lot of time alone. But for the last few weeks, people - even random strangers with whom I have just a brief encounter - are feeling like gifts to me.

During my 6am SuperShuttle ride to the Minneapolis St. Paul airport, my only other shuttle companion began talking, and talking, and talking, telling me all about her job as an event planner, then about her son's upcoming wedding, about the bride, about the bride's family, about where the wedding will be, where the bachelorette party will be, where the reception will be, who will be catering the reception, the distance from the caterer's to her house...and instead of feeling trapped and resentful, I found myself feeling quite fond of this total stranger who'd popped into my life, and curious about what lesson or experience she might teach me.

Then on my flight I sat next to a large man whose cell phone rang ("Telephone" by Lady Gaga) as we were taxiing for take-off. Normally, between his sprawling into my personal space and the fact that he couldn't even be bothered to turn off his cell phone, I'd retreat to my corner and think grumpy, spiteful thoughts about him for the rest of the flight.

Instead, we began talking. Turns out was going home to Hyderabad, India, after being away for two years. He missed his family, he missed the food and the climate, he could not wait, could not WAIT to get back. We talked about temples and forts and trains, which cities to visit and which to avoid, all the types of mangoes that grow in India, how his very favorite meal of all is chicken biryani. We talked about all the places he'd visited in the U.S. (quite a good list) and how he adored getting in the car and just driving and driving and driving. He may have been homesick for India, but he wasn't letting that stop him from having a grand adventure while he was here.

Despite his bad head cold, which forced him to repeatedly excuse himself to cough into the collar of his jacket, he couldn't stop talking about home. The more he talked, the more excited he got - and the less I understood what he was saying. I asked him about the death of Sai Baba and he told me how baffled he was that any human being should claim to be god. From there, I really couldn't quite hear the words so I just smiled and nodded, figuring what the heck. The plane landed, I wished him luck, and off he went to get a glass of brandy before his 14-hour flight to India.

Such encounters make me feel a little bit better about the world as a whole. There's a lot to feel disheartened about. I see many people - mostly in the public eye - behaving in a way devoid of compassion or empathy and driven primarily by personal greed.

But the world is also populated with people like the ones I've just met, people who are going about their daily lives, holding open doors and saying "thank you," celebrating what (and whom) they love, and trying to make sense of what they don't understand. The small-town Minnesotan event planner and the uprooted Indian IT worker, the Ethiopian shuttle driver who refused to believe his GPS ("Shut up!" he kept telling it as we passed our turn), the smiling hotel clerk who didn't know what or where Maine was, or even me, the traveling yarn minstrel. We may be small ants, but together we make a beautiful hill.