Pulling weeds. Hauling browned palm fronds. Trimming branches. Sweeping loose gravel. Sweating in the tropical humidity while perspiration drips down my brow. That’s my morning today, attempting to make an improvement on the street appearance of our newly rented dwelling in Hawaii Kai.
From the state of overgrown disarray, it is obvious that the previous tenants of this house did essentially nothing in the yard. Mind you, not doing yard work for a year in Hawaii is a very big mistake: everything grows here twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every month of the year. In moving to this house, we’ve inherited a good bit of work to bring things back to shape but on a certain level I don’t mind. Working outdoors is a sort of physical activity that I generally enjoy; it’s a kind of work that shows clearly tangible results at the end of the day as opposed to something like, well, writing.
Working outdoors also grants me the opportunity to connect with the living, non-human beings with whom I share space… getting to know the rosemary bush, the fragrant plumeria, spiky aloe, avocado and mango trees, zebra doves, mynah birds, and various lizards, insects and small denizens who also call this place home. Most people tend to look at them as ‘things’ or ‘objects’; I see them as diverse expressions of the Universal creativity and intelligence, each with a role to play in the web of life.
The property at street level, while severely unkempt, is manageable. Thanks to my efforts, it’s already looking like humans live here again. It’s the lower terraces below the house — the place where I’m dreaming of a garden — that have reverted to something like jungle. The area will require more work to transform than even I care to invest. Thankfully, the landlord has agreed to have someone with good tools and sturdy boots to come, cut, and clear away the overgrown debris. I have phoned several landscape people this week to obtain quotes, so hopefully soon the work will be underway. Then I can get in there and begin enriching the rocky, red dirt to create a modest vegetable plot. It all starts with the soil… and soul.
For a cook, nothing is better than ingredients freshly plucked from a garden or ‘allotment’ (the shared, community garden plots some of my friends in the UK have). Yet my desire to transform the terraces stems from something more than growing vegetables, fruits or flowers (lovely as all of those are). It’s deeper than my passionate commitment to organic, local, seasonal or sustainable food. What is really at work here is my desire for a daily connection with Earth while growing food that nurtures both soil and soul. Putting in a garden is something that I need to do to nourish my spirit and establish a meaningful connection to place. You might say it’s about roots, really.
For the past couple of years in my nomadic life, as our painted gypsy wagon rolled from campsite to campsite around the globe, my longing for a garden has intensified. From a small seed inside me the yearning has grown into a thick tangle of pale tendrils pushing against my skin, root bound and ready to explode. I’m nearly desperate to be settled in a place long enough to plant a small garden and nurture it through the changing seasons, from tender sprout to savory harvest that I bring to the table. It’s a longing for a place that I call home; a longing that I feel in my body as an ache in the bones, as unsettling as hunger or thirst. It feels like my soul itself yearns to send anchoring, nutrient seeking filaments down into sweet dark earth.
At several of our last residences I cleared space on the land for a modest garden, yet each time my plans were altered and halted, whether because of moving house earlier than anticipated (i.e., departing Spain to come home to Maui), a crazy Kula landlady, or whatnot. Most recently, in Olinda on the cool slopes of Haleakalā, the fragrant eucalyptus trees encircling our cottage cast everything into shade, less than ideal for a vegetable plot.
The time has finally come, it seems. Flanked by a couple of dark green mango trees, the sun-drenched terraces below the house wait for me, ready to be transformed into something other than a jubilee of weeds. Waiting to become the sanctuary of a Soul Artist’s garden.
Soul Artists seek conscious expansion in their lives, unfurling past old habits of containment and restriction. They open through their senses and compassionate heart. Wherever they may be planted, they gather nourishment similar to the way plants tunnel down into dark soil and simultaneously stretch upwards towards the light. They offer their creative fruit and soul gifts selflessly to the world. They care for body and soul, thus do they grow and thrive.
Here in this suburban neighborhood of O’ahu where my wild, elemental soul feels less than nourished by its environment, I truly need a place where I can step out barefoot in the mornings and greet the Holy. An inviting space where I enter into wordless communion with the ‘more-than-human’ world, where I am an active participant in co-creation of beauty and nourishment. As a steward, it is a place where I belong and my creative energies are fueled, where my roots sink down and bodysoul is fed, metaphorically and literally.
A garden yields an obvious, well-used analogy or metaphor. In our ‘allotment’ of life we work and toil, turning the soil, adding compost, planting seeds, pulling weeds, watering and nourishing the seedlings and plants, and hopefully reaping the harvest of our labors to share with others. Or perhaps we simply sit among the overgrown dandelions, lanky grass and thistles and wish for something else. In our personal lives, what do we choose to cultivate… or ignore? What are we planting in the world? What needs watering and nurturing? What are the ‘weeds’ that require pulling, those patterns and habits that no longer serve our highest growth?
There’s not much that I need to pull or discard from my life these days but there are certainly things that I know are imperative to nurture. Soul, a primary one. My intention is that on the terraces below this house I will finally create my longed for garden (or at least an initial version of it). Cradled between the rocky arms of the ridgelines that form the upper reaches of this island valley, where maritime breezes roll up from the shore or surf down the jagged peaks, here I will cultivate a tactile, sensory relationship with place. My modest terrace plot will be an earthly refuge where I work with hands in the soil, stirring the deep imagination to wake and feeding my bodysoul.
While gossiping mynah birds strut nearby and doves coo-coo in the shade of the mango trees, I will scatter prayers like seeds and manifest transformation. Weeds will become gardens. Sadness becomes joy. Work offers nourishment and delight. Disconnection transforms into rootedness… and sweet fruit. As nature’s alchemists, bees gather nectar and create honey… may we each be inspired to do the same.
In the garden of the soul grows the Tree of Life. In the garden of the heart, let us clear the weeds and plant love.