“While the gentle tapping of a weed at the window had become, on a winters’ night, a drumming from sturdy trees and thorned briars” – Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
In winter, the garden appears dormant, dry, barren; unsure of its identity.
When earth tips on its axis and rays of sun feel furthest from all living things in the northern hemisphere, I anthropomorphize the grown over bark and rust and ash colored land; unearth it’s deeper emotions of melancholy.
In “The Waste Land” T.S. Eliot wrote, “Winter kept us warm, covering/ Earth in forgetful snow, feeding/ A little life with dried tubers.” Hibernation may be the mask worn by desiccated vines and withered limbs, but a garden in winter, even a neglected one, has a rich inner life.
“Poppies sowed themselves among dahlias; the lawn waved with long grass; giant artichokes towered among roses; a fringed carnation flowered among the cabbages.” After the Ramsay’s garden, in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, is abandoned for ten years, it takes on a wild, independent, fertile life of its own where plants have the vigor to break through the foundation of the house; the garden endures, even if all the characters of the novel do not.
At the center of our garden, like a found art sculpture, our wheelbarrow with its faded matte paint and rusted hubcap is being swallowed by rambling plant matter I can no longer identify.
I find this utilitarian object, defenseless to the elements, beautiful. I look at it for several days in a row and know I want to photograph it. One day it is buried by snow–most of its red covered in a blinding white, another day the gloss of rain turns it a youthful scarlet. On the day I first photograph it, it is dry and cold, unable to absorb warmth from the sun that lights a much awaited clear day, a whopping twenty degrees Fahrenheit.
Every time I look at the wheelbarrow, it reminds me of William Carlos Williams’, “The Red Wheelbarrow.” How could it not?
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
My wheelbarrow must be a distant relative of Williams’ wheelbarrow. At the very least, mine has similar aspirations. I foresee it aiding chickens on their adventures through life in the near future.
On a winter walk through my neighborhood, I pass two long rows of weathered sunflowers in an open field. I find this eccentric bouquet, that never was, stunning; brown and dry, they’re relics that have frozen in time and space. Surprisingly, only one crown has fallen to the earth. A few seeds still cling to their birth place, but most have been swallowed by scavengers or buried in the ground. Sunflower babies are likely by summer.
The rhythm of “Sunflower Sutra” is palpable, “Look at the sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man.”
The ghost of Ginsberg right here among the “battered” sunflowers.
“A perfect beauty of a sunflower! A perfect excellent sunflower existence!”
I can see Ginsberg and Kerouac giving poetic sermons to one another dancing and weaving between the rows of dead sunflowers for emphasis, “corollas of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown,” still so young and so very alive.
“Seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried spider web . . . unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower–O my soul, I loved you then.”
I say goodbye to my dear winter compatriots, continue walking, while they are mid-epiphany in the “shadow” of the Southern Pacific Locomotive.
The train tracks near my home, near these sunflowers, were built by prison laborers, chain gangs most likely, in the 1880s. Coal, a frequent commodity transported on the route today, sits in large mounds like mysterious dirty black rocks peaking out from multiple wagons, quivering with the harsh vibration of each track.
Pre-spring daffodils, the antithesis of winter sunflower carcasses and ominous coal, brace themselves and break through the earth forcing us to pause. Wide spread across this area in yards, gardens and forests, wild and rampant, they are often the first sign that we are tipping closer to the warmth and light we have been longing for and craving like fiends trying to appear we are fine, though so clearly in need of our fix.
These common things: wheelbarrows, sunflowers, a garden appearing to be asleep, they are my fix; they must have been for Pablo Neruda as well. I look at them like works of art years in the making. These little bits of matter, complex, even ancient, awaken my senses, make me feel alive; bring the recitations of poets and novelists into the rhythm of treks in frigid temperatures.
Winter begs contemplation. When the skeletal outline of trees find you edging toward melancholy, wear your fake fur and feathers, step outside and take stock of the world when it is still possible to see the subtle nuances that get buried, lost, by the lush, flamboyant festivities of spring.