A Different Lens . . .Julie Scissorhands
December 14, 2010
Garden gone, the freezing cold burns my California skin. I thought after two months I would have developed that extra layer to protect me from the cold. Outside everyday, I’m witnessing the swift changes affecting everything around me. I was gone for a week in the city, and upon my return, I hardly recognized the thirty-six goats, as their coats had grown drastically. While the animals prepare themselves for winter, I have been learning how to prepare the garden for its own winter’s rest.
Before I left for the city, the weather had dictated a big clean up and Isaac thoroughly provided me with the details for dealing with the smaller garden. Highlighting for me the herbs to be cut, hung, and dried for market, the flowers and other greens to be completely pulled out, and the vegetation to be trimmed, Isaac armed me with multiple tools. There is something so cathartic about pulling out ten-foot towering sunflowers. I wanted to take these out in one piece, seesawing them back and forth, sometimes using my whole body weight by standing on their stalks, until the victorious feeling when their shallow root base breaks from the ground. As each flower came timbering, I found myself yelling, “Off with his head!!” Who knows where that came from, but when you are hours into a very dirty workout, its therapeutic value goes way beyond a physical challenge and propagates into the freeze frame feature of imagination.
In the frenzy of cleaning up, I eyed an unattractive bush of some sort standing sentinel at the entrance to the main garden. For such a high profile position, I thought it needed a good grooming and felt very much on a roll in the garden. Clippers in hand, I decided to bring fashion to the garden and make this gangly bush beautiful, as I would on a set of a photo shoot, giving direction for hair, make-up and wardrobe. After cutting off the thickest of the stalks, I caught a startled stare from Kevin, the almighty go-to-fix-it guy who repairs just about everything on the farm. He yelled across the way, “You shouldn’t have done that.” I froze, “What do you mean?” Moments later, Isaac showed up, and described the varying techniques one should use when cutting a tree (oh, it’s a tree!). I learned that the style in which I had approached this Elderberry tree had set it back two years from its next fruiting. I gulped, and realized my mistake, and in its wake, I tried to hang onto the joy of the physically demanding hours left behind in the great outdoors. I found that the “not knowingness” factor in the garden can cause “casualties,” and I hibernated in introspection.
A couple days later, Isaac, with caution but keeping me engaged in the process, gave explicit directions of what to remove and what to cut back in what I call the “kinder garden” and I set out on task. Convening in the kitchen at 6:30am the following day, the first words out of Isaac’s mouth were, “You’re breaking my heart,” and for some reason I thought a compliment was coming my way. Isaac, though, was serious. This time, he informed me, I had actually cut to its most likely death a rare pink grapevine in the kids’ garden. I went white as a sheet. “Where? How could I? What are you talking about? Show me!” We marched out to the garden and Isaac pointed to the stump, and I was just as stumped. “Did I cut this?” I didn’t remember, and then I thought he might be testing me. Was this a trick? Unfortunately it was not. I had to ask myself what I was thinking. How could I have managed to do this, when Isaac was ever so clear and specific and after I’d practically cut down a tree, unauthorized?
Despite my embarrassment, I realized an incredible blending of two lessons - do we really learn from our mistakes, and are we so asleep so as not to take responsibility for our actions, and in this case cause irreparable damage? This time, I didn’t want Lisa to learn about my mistake through the grapevine, no pun intended, and decided to tell her myself. As I prepared to break it to her, I was holding back the tears. Lisa’s casual response was, “Oh, I thought you were going to tell me one of the animals died.” I felt relief, but none-the-less clumsy in these new shoes, not sure if I was causing more harm than good with my efforts.
The week before, I had taken down, with only intended casualties, the okra and the sun choke fields. Both are very tall and lanky breeds, with a sunflower-esque top-heavy root base. I turned to survey that landscape: “Okra War, Bedford Hills 2010?” –Sure, the ground was littered with foraged plant life, the earth cratered where once perfectly spaced massive root heads took hold. But this is exactly what was supposed to happen. After assisting mother nature in her clean-up, the fields are completely cleaned and a fresh barren “canvas” lays ready to be restored over the winter. My imagination runs forward as I wonder what Lisa and Isaac have in mind for The Garden a la 2011.
Timing is everything, and these insights couldn’t have come at a better time - the week of giving thanks. On a daily basis, the excitement of the “newness” on the farm comes with an equally heavy price - the inescapable learning from one’s mistakes. I am constantly challenged by my internal voice: “Am I’m doing this right? Am I learning fast enough?”
My friend Svjetlana, whom I met when she was thirteen, in Croatia, just after the Yugoslavian war, and whom I sponsored through medical school, is currently a resident at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. On our way to our oh-so-very late Thanksgiving dinner (Svjetlana was detained in an emergency C-section), I shared with her my “learning curve” experiences and she shared hers. “In the beginning, you’ll never do it right, because someone else has a better way of doing it. The only way of truly learning is when your actions are riding the thin line of a patient’s life or death, and you pray you’ve learned what it takes to save that patient’s life.” Our work realities are so very different, our extremes juxtaposed. Grateful, I’m reminded of the bigger picture…and am waiting with baited breath for our winter meeting, to learn what is ahead.