On Being a Civilized Animal...
Recently my mom succumbed to a sudden illness. For years she had been saying that if she got sick she would refuse the poisons and machinery of modern medicine, refuse the prolonging of the inevitable. She was preparing my sister and I for the choice that she made -- to allow the natural course of things.
My mother was an expert knitter, spinner, water-colorist, dressage rider, cook. She dabbled in cello and sarcasm and half a dozen other arts. Mostly she was a master gardener. She loved the fertility she found in the Central Coast after a life in the cultural brutality of the Midwest. When she first moved to California her gardens were dense and lush; like they had been in the moist Midwest. With time her attitude towards gardening morphed; if it thrives encourage it, if it does not let it go. Her garden was a mix of the carefully cultivated and upstart volunteer plants growing where they chose. She had become more a facilitator than an imperialist. There are tomatoes growing with the impatiens, onions in all the flower pots, roses and herbs together. Especially in these years of drought the garden took on a sort of zen cacophony.This is how she lived and how she died. With an ear to the rhythms of nature and what that implies for us.
The pomegranate tree in the front yard was fruiting in early fall as my mother passed. Persephone descends to the underworld for the dark months of the year with only 6 pomegranate seeds to eat. In Persephone's absence fall comes, all the land goes barren, humans starve. Persephone is divided between her love for her mother and her love for the King of the Underworld. A deal is struck and in the end she cycles between Hades and her mother Demeter. Summer and winter mirror her movements. This has always been a favorite myth of mine. There is death, love, mystery, longing and reunion, the promise of rebirth and the inevitability of natural cycles. It is a core myth of western civilization and it teaches that these things are the stuff of life; not just the fun easy bits. It is the knowledge of nature and it's patterns and the ability to live well within them that civilizes us. I am fortunate to have been cultivated in such a garden.