Spiritual Reflections

A Waltz in the Garden

by Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at jtompki1@swarthmore.edu

I gave up an illusion this morning. Of course I shouldn't even have a plot in the community garden this year. I don't have the time to maintain it: weeding, watering, tending the plants requires daily attention. Just two weeks ago I had stretched out long swathes of black plastic weedblock over the bare soil in plot #6, then stapled it down as tightly as I could without ripping the plastic. The result was a taut and shiny artificial surface which I was sure would defy any weed that tried to poke itself into my garden plot. Ah, control. Such a sweet illusion.

I maintained that illusion for awhile. While I did no further work on my plot, I ran or walked by often enough to notice the telltale signs of other gardeners' activities: poles and fencing and bags of mulch appeared. While my neighbor's plots were covered in black plastic, they were draped in a looser fashion that followed the little hills and bumps of the soil beneath. I looked at my shiny plot with smug satisfaction. No one boasted so tight, so taut, so invincible a sheath as mine.

Then the first surprise, as I walked by the garden just a week later. Surprise, or perhaps, come-uppance. A deer had waltzed across my garden plot. Yes, I do mean waltzed. Across the tight fabric of my weed block was the trail of muddy tracks. The offending deer had found not one shred of green nourishment there, but that had not stopped him from hoofing it the entire length of the plastic covering. And every third print had broken through the surface. A perfect three-beat pattern of holes permeated my careful weed barrier. Already, I could see the green fuzz of weeds springing forth in the spaces. In my neighbor Gene's garden, the deer hooves had not torn through the plastic even once.

What to do? I could buy new rolls of plastic and re-cover the plot. Or, I could cover the holes with duct tape. In a different life, I might come down and pull out the weeds each morning. I might even take time out now, in the busy end-of- semester rush, to plant lettuce seeds in each of the hoof-shaped holes. But that would disrupt the garden design I had drawn so carefully on graph paper last January. Anyway, I had no time for the garden just now. I sighed to myself and admitted it was out of my control. I decided to do nothing. I let it be.

And so, in my not-doing, grace happened. I was away from home, and the garden, for nearly a week. When I returned, I found a small plant growing in each hoof-shaped hole, a plant that had sprung up taller than the surrounding green fuzz of weeds. Sunflowers. I recognized the sturdy leaves as volunteers from the seeds of last year's dramatic, tall beauties. My garden now promised a perfect Straussian waltz pattern of sunflowers, thanks to my friend the deer.

And so I have acknowledged a different plan for the garden, and dispensed with the illusion that its growth was ever really mine. What will it look like? Perhaps something like this: Some lettuce, a sunflower....some lettuce, a sunflower....a tomato, a sunflower....a tomato, a tomato... a sunflower....Who knows? It all depends upon the continuing dance of nature. And I am grateful that God's music is beyond my control, changing the rhythm from a waltz to a tango to a two-step, and some great hip-hop in between. What else can I say? Let's dance.