Friends of the Garden

When I moved to the wine country in 1998, I fell in love with the land, with the breathtaking views of the rolling hills, with our plantation styled home nestled in the corner, surrounded by vineyards, Redwood and cherry blossom trees.  It is here that I grew closer to nature’s ways, cultivating an endearing friendship with the garden, towards living things, gentle and quiet in demeanor.   

Approaching March, my mind’s eye turns to the garden–day dreaming about what lies ahead.  Having planted (thanks to my husband) over 30 types of flowers, I will soon snap out of my daydream to a plethora of flowers, an explosion of color, blending in with our pink vineyard blossoms. 

Flowers!  I love what the French writer Colette once said, “How can one help shivering with delight when one’s hot fingers close around the stem of a live flower, cool from the shade and stiff with newborn vigor!” 

With flowers, you know who your friends are.  What you see is what you get.  No conditional behavior, no trivial outbursts, no drama.  Just genuine acceptance and silent perfection in living color, waiting to be tended to, watered, admired.  

Our first friends of the garden will make their arrival with purple Petunias, pink Agapanthus, Rock Roses, red hot Geraniums, mellow pink Alstromerias, magenta Snapdragons, white and lavender Calla Lilies, blue Morning Glories, orange Day Lilies, white Daisies, multi-colored Gladiolas, Lavender bushes, red Salvias and Camellias, Mexican Sage and Evening Primrose, Yarrow, Butterfly Lilies, Jasmine, Wisteria, Crate Myrtle, Violas, Paper Whites, Yellow Daffodils and Red Dahlias–ready to raise their glorious heads.  There’s more, but you get the splendor.

Willa Cather wrote, “Beauty is the sense of life and the awe one has in its presence.”  In the garden, young and old can marvel at nature’s wonders, flowers bloom sharing their significance on this planet in a small and beautiful way.  

I feel younger in my garden as I know my mother and father do.  I feel more alive staying outdoors until the moon greets the sun.  Where I star gaze at the brilliant diamonds in the dark lit sky until dawn breaks once more to the opening of a flower.

A Song of Sonoma

Yesterday, as I walked the back country roads of Sonoma, I took in the vapor smells of the Eucalyptus trees, the vibrant pink color of the cherry blossoms, the rows and rows of stark vineyard landscape.  As I looked around me, I thought of the artists who infused their surroundings into their work:  Willa Cather, Karen Von Blixen (pen name Isak Denison), May Sarton, and Georgia O’Keeffe, just to a name a handful. 

Their identity, the places they called home lived and breathed through their books and paintings, interweaving into one, a rich colorful tapestry of their lives and art; whether it be in Cather’s pioneering terrain of Nebraska, Denison’s wild life of Kenya, Sarton’s poetic moments of New Hampshire and Maine, or O’Keeffe’s desert landscape of New Mexico. 

I recall Denison’s song of Africa and am transported to a time and place in her world.  “If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me?  Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”–Karen Blixen

I am there with her.  And my love for Africa grows more intense.

In Cather’s, My Antonia, I remember one of my favorite passages in the book where she wrote, I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more.  I was entirely happy.  Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge.” 

Cather describes a ‘bloom where you’re planted philosophy,’ a natural happiness that grows green right under your bare feet. 

How many times have I looked outside myself, my life, my surroundings for happiness, for escape?

I don’t want to be anything more than the woman in the vineyards, than the pumpkins on my porch, than the warm sun on my skin, or the hot air balloons flying over my home.  I don’t want to be more than the red dahlias in my pots, or the red wine on my lips, or my children giggling in the front yard or the blue sky and white clouds floating.  

Georgia O’Keeffe said, “To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage,”

It takes courage to write my new life into being; to ‘be’ with life in the full sense of the word, but the beauty of it is infinite.

Bottled Up in Rumi Red

If Bob Dylan was once Tangled Up in Blue in his popular song of the 70’s, I confess that I am Bottled Up in Red in a small song of my own.  

I am restless today.  My soul is bottled up with a fiery red substance called passion, ready to blow the lid off of my daily existence at any moment.  That bottled up feeling comes from having too much time on my hands–a good thing, I know.  (I should be so lucky, I know, I know!)  But what do they say about, ‘too much of a good thing?’  It ain’t good. 

I have plenty to do around the house, vineyard and garden.  I have vines to prune, prune, prune.  And on this weekend, my husband and I (and any of our victim friends) plan to bottle two oak barrels filled with our 2007 Meritage blend.  What does that mean?  Well, a barrel of wine equals 23 cases of Nicolas Alexander wine (our label) times two, which means, 46 cases of wine, wine, wine and more wine for everyone! 

I still have loving children to raise to the end of my days, and laundry to wash until I’m sloshed.  I still have those ‘labors of love and hate,’ to do. 

It’s the further development of my ‘life’s work’ that leaves me restless.  My need to contribute in a fuller, more meaningful capacity that stirs my soul like the Tasmanian Devil.  I don’t see this restlessness as a bad thing, but rather a necessary calling from my inner voice to shift my Buddha butt into higher gear, to do what I must do to feel whole and fully alive.   The nature of transition.

Transitions are tough and neverending.  Buddhist teachings remind us of this truth.  “Everything changes, nothing remains without change,” says Siddharta.

Thank god, I love change.  I LOVE IT.  My restlessness comes from a need for change.  But at 48 years of age, it has to be the right kind of change.  For the very first time, I asked myself what do you want to do with the rest of your life?  What do you really, really want to do with your time, energy, and love? 

I know this.  I want to be in nature, surrounded by peace and quiet, stoic trees, song birds, sunny porches, and punch drunk vineyards.  I want to write about life in the wine country.  Write about love, romance, wine, passion, death and rebirth.  There’s more, I want to continue helping people during difficult times.  But there is no clear path on how to do this.  My path was and is one I’d have to weed out on my own, or that’s how it feels, with plenty of rocks strewn about on the roadless traveled. 

The best thing so far about my transition from corporate executive to full-time mom, working on projects I love (my children of course, as hospice volunteer–helping people die with dignity in their homes, as board president of a non-profit animal shelter–saving animals lives; and as coach to women–assisting them in their journeys) is, I got to taste for the very first time, something rare, something delicious and true.  I got to experience the natural rhythms of life which are founded in time, patience, nurturing, deliberation, determination, birth, light and then, rebirth.  Natural rhythms that require no manipulation or advice from human beings.  Real change.   

I slipped into the groove of these natural rhythms, giving birth to my second son, with no self-imposed deadlines to follow.  I learned how to be with life for the first time.  Now, I understand how gardeners, spiritual teachers, healers, cooks, writers and artists thrive and create in these natural rhythms, as mother’s do.  The process is completely organic.  The mind takes the back seat to the primal patterns of life.  It all works so beautifully, perfectly. 

My real work now is to integrate these natural rhythms of life into a body of work, a life of work as servant-leader and writer, helping myself whilst helping others thrive and lead full lives.  Love being the key ingredient: Rumi Red, I call it.

I look to the mystic masters of all traditions for a future world free of cruelty and horror, where humanity can live on earth together in union, free of needless suffering.  As Rumi says, In Love, As Love, For Love, he cries passionately for the right kind of change in our lives. 

My restlessness falls away when I remember to live each day In Love, As Love, For Love, all Bottled Up in Rumi Red.  What a vintage!

Making Room for Gandhi Growth

Today, I began the arduous but spiritual task of pruning 600 Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  If I stay in the moment, I find the act of pruning one vine at a time, divine.  Get one step ahead of myself and I gasp with overwhelm!  My husband and I are a mere two person tag team, so we work best by staying in the Be Here Now ethic.

But I was thinking, it was just this past fall when these scrawny and entangled limbs gave birth to our 2010 Meritage vintage.  During the winter, the vines stood dormant and turned a scraggly brown, waiting patiently to turn once more into pink little buds–longing to return to their precious purpose on this earth. 

Rumi says, “Grapes Want to Turn Into Wine.”  Indeed, they do.  

As with grapes, I experience my own profound psychological shift in being when all our vines are pruned.  Not only do I feel a sense of completion, of a job well done with the vineyard looking well-groomed and tidy, but with my own hands, I have directly contributed to the grape’s transformation, cutting off its dead weight of wood in order for the vines to turn to grape. 

As I come out of my own quiet hibernation this winter (with plenty of dead weight, I might add).  I too, feel the inclination to prune and get rid of what no longer serves me in my life.  I want to clear out the things that crowd my mind, my space and make room for new growth in my own life. 

I have been clearing the way, decluttering my life by completing some long over-due mundane projects, like throwing out all my old, old clothes, (that I wore back in college in the 80’s) from my closet;  I’ve been donating most of my good books to our local library so another deserving reader can relish in them over a good glass of wine;  I’ve been setting bon fires to the little piles of paperwork that seem to reappear.  I swear they must have their very own hidden stash of Miracle Grow brewing underneath.   

Over time, I hope to live simply like Gandhi, where he sat on a cool, damp floor in nothing but a loin cloth, spooling cotton.  But in my version, I’ll be barefoot in my Levi’s with a cotton white shirt on (hey, at least it’s cotton!) pruning instead of spooling.  I wouldn’t want to see myself in a loin cloth pruning vines.  I might attract turkey vultures.

And after all this sacred pruning, a little wine tasting of Ridge’s 2008 California Zinfandel Pagani Ranch will do nicely.  My heart and soul longs for spring.  The Sun.  Some fun!  As the comedian, Robin Williams, aptly put it, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, Let’s Party!”