Though most of our property (all but one small corner) escaped burning as the wildfires raged around us, our garden did take a few fire-related hits: a prolonged lack of water combined with poor air quality and being left vulnerable to hungry deer meant that most of our plants experienced an accelerated autumn decline . . . and then some. Rather ironically, the ‘smokebush’ (Cotinus coggygria) that sits on the slope of the rocky knoll behind the house seems indifferent to all of the drama that has unfolded around it, and it’s been a beacon of hope in all its fall glory, providing a counterpoint to the dismay I felt as I first inventoried the damage to my garden.
All summer long I was so busy IN the garden that I never found the time to write ABOUT the garden. There were stories to tell (about the success of growing cukes in the green house; the rescue of the rattlesnake caught in the strawberry netting; the first harvest of hops, and so much more), but I was busy: with new plantings chosen specifically for the benefit of the bees and chickens, with an expanded kitchen garden space, with the first attempts at pushing the boundaries of the garden into the woodland in a sensitive manner — but mostly with watering. I’m a committed hand-waterer, and there’s no getting around the fact that hand-watering takes time. For me, the time is mostly meditative (rather like ironing, or hand-washing the dishes), but it’s also a chance to check in with my plants, to observe what other attention each might need and to assess how each is contributing to the overall plan: it’s gardening, defined. This daily attention binds me to the garden (requires my presence and energy) but also binds the garden to me rather in the way the nurture of offspring cements the bond between parent and child.
My dismay at the state of the garden upon our return was not merely an ephemeral impression wrought by the visual disarray of what had been so carefully nurtured along thus far, but instead deeply felt and persistent. Almost the very first thing I did upon our return home after the mandatory evacuation order had been lifted was to give every part of the garden a good, long drink of water — but then I felt so overwhelmed by my dismay that it was fully a week before I could begin any of the many tasks that awaited me to begin to bring the garden back from the damage that had been done: sifting out debris that had rained down out of the woods with the fierce winds; cutting back plants that had been parched and/or scorched, or deer-damaged; and washing away ash residue from what remains. Mind you, a gardener expects to be taxed with ‘putting the garden to bed for the winter’ each autumn, but this has been a fall clean-up on steroids. Thankfully, my dismay has also been put to bed by my efforts, hope restored by action and faith buttressed by already-apparent signs of recovery as the rainy season begins: by and by, the garden will be ready to cycle into new growth and respond to my ministrations once again.
So many lost so much as a result of the fires that the setback for our garden is nothing, of course, and yet my dismay was real, was something for me to acknowledge and work through. That done, the full expression of our appreciation for the efforts of the firefighters who protected our home is possible without any reservation: we are so very grateful that Acorn Lodge stands, our little brown nut sitting prettily among the oaks, our HOME SWEET HOME . . . and GARDEN.