The Inconstant Gardener {Look Around}

Inconstant Gardener

We let a cactus die. A cactus. This tells you just how good we are at taking care of plants. This sounds all the more dramatic as I am truly a nature lover, from plants to animals and - why not - pebbles and sand. How did the poor cactus die? We just did not water it, thinking that a desert-like environment would suit its needs just fine. Blissful ignorance has its perks and… its disadvantages too.

Now that we have moved and are back to what could resemble our Dutch way of life, much closer to nature, with a patio and all, we are willing to give it another try. The patio still looks pretty empty and lonely at the moment, with a banana tree that humbly bowed its darkened leaves to the ground the minute the cold, the real stuff, showed up. Still, thrilled by the southern sun and the hundred possibilities it offers, we joined an ambitious, volunteering project: 100 Jardiniers or 100 Gardeners, if you wish.

The not-for-profit event was promoted in the Bordeaux area by a new acquaintance who invited us to join the project, ordering online some bushes, trees or aromatics to plant in an unkept field as a way to infuse it with new life. The day chosen to plant was a cold December Sunday. One of those mystic days shrouded in a fog so thick and grey that we could not even imagine the limits of the field, the road, the fences... On this kind of day you are happy to be out and about with kindred souls, labouring the earth, drinking hot tea or coffee from a thermos, meeting new faces, exchanging advice, learning new terms (mallet anyone?) questions and answers. Words, smiles and stories surrounded us.

The project was a way to redeem ourselves while showing the kids that you can be outdoor in winter, closer to nature, sweating to dig the precious hole for your tree-to-be and discovering your boundaries and the cycle of life. Does this sound like too much in one go? Kids have few limits, or so I find. After having tried to explain how and why people die, when and how they reach the stars in the sky to shine forever by their side, we thought that showing them the cycle of life by planting something in a given spot, preparing the ground for it, watching it grow, yield fruit, then wither and start over would be an easy, instinctive way of speaking of life, death and rebirth.

We have chosen to plant a pear and a cherry tree and we should be able to pick the fruit in different seasons, turning the pages of the seasonal cycle too, whether it be for humans or for trees. My secret hope is that my eldest daughter will then stop asking for strawberries in the fall… I have accompanied the field experience with a book that is a regular bedtime read for us: Nos Saisons (Our Seasons) by Caroline Pellissier and Virginie Aladjidi, illustrated by Emmanuelle Tchoukriel.

As a family, and despite our clumsiness, we all enjoyed the hard work in the field, and the contemplation it involved; we were rewarded by new friendships, closer ties with acquaintances and our first ever winter picnic: we unfolded the blankets and the tables, opened bottles and tasted duck hearts grilled on the improvised BBQ under the watchful eyes of sheep and horses. 

The fog slowly lifted that day. Sun rays came through to grant much needed encouragements. There’s no doubt - if ever there was one - that a campfire, homemade food, a few drinks and a crowd of volunteers is a rallying experience to cherish.

It felt like going back to the essential, soul binding gatherings that foster oral traditions, legends and discoveries. We all went back to nature’s roots and back to our own tribal, primordial roots. Isn't this part of a healing and reinvention process when you move, change lifestyle, city, social networks? Doesn't this alone show that we are social animals; we define the group, but more than anything else we need to be in the group, to find our place and space to be able to feel fulfilled. 

In the spring we shall go there again to check on the trees we planted and nature will tell us her full story, I am sure.

Credits: Love & Light on The Creative Market (edited by TheDaydreamer)

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