This year, amidst the pandemic, we felt moved to dig up much of our wee backyard and plant several garden beds. The last weeks of rain have left the garden lush with growth: this morning I picked several cucumbers, presents tucked in among the mass of leaves and vines.
Planting a garden has been a visceral experience of being mothered: the harvesting of herbs and vegetables grounds me in the generosity of earth, rain and sunlight as it transforms into cucumber and tomato, fennel and onion.
This past weekend we found ourselves at our local garden store, picking up supplies. In the back of the store we found the clearance table, plants that needed extra TLC (we couldn't help ourselves!) and other bits. I spied a small garden statue of a mother and child, with paint and plaster chipped around the base and the infant's head.
“How much is the statue?” I asked the nearby attendant.
“Please take her!” she replied. “I'll make you a deal.”
As she looked up the statue's original price, I told her how much I liked the scruffs and chips – “She's a mother,” I said. “All mothers get a little beat up along the way.”
My garden, too, has gotten a little beat up: our dog Bailey leaps over and through the beds in her attempts to catch the backyard squirrels.
Worms ate much of the kale and bok choy.
And part of a tree was cracked in last week's storm, falling on the pepper plants and sunflowers, crushing a few.
And still, the garden produces.
Still, new life continues to unfold. Still, the Mother remains, overflowing in generous caring, in moistness of soil and sweetness of fruit.
In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, mother, scientist, professor, and Potawatomi member Robin Wall Zimmerer writes that "In some Native languages the term for plants translates to 'those who take care of us.'"
She also had this to say about her own journey of gardening: “This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.”
When my children were little, they were bequeathed an album of songs, Fairy Moon, from singer-songwriter Maria Sangiolo. In my favorite song from the album, First Best Friend, Maria writes: "we are born to just one mother, but as we grow there are so many others."
The first time I heard this song I cried, remembering the sweetness of mothering my children as young ones and remembering the mothers beyond my mother of birth - women (and men) who have nurtured and cared for me.
But when I read Robin's words in Braiding Sweetgrass, I was struck - for I had never thought of a garden as a Mother.
When we planted our garden, we began our part of the care taking: building up soil with compost, egg shells and fish meal; crafting garden beds out of simple boards; tilling, weeding, and planting.
We whittle stakes for our tomato and pepper plants as they grow and weed errant visitors.
And yet, all along, our garden has been taking care of us. And how fitting that our garden now has a Mother.
She also has a sense of humor: yesterday, when I looked at the receipt from the garden store, I discovered that the statue has a name: St. Anne.
Saint Anne: the mother of Mary. The Mother of a Mother.
Nothing but a line of Mothers.