Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mud Therapy

When my husband and I first bought a house 6 years ago we inherited nothing but 4 boxwoods and a big old mud pit. My gardening experience up to that point had been limited to begrudgingly weeding around my mom's shrubs and one paltry attempt at growing a few sad tomatoes. You don't get a lot of gardening opportunities in college and I learned quickly that I'm not an indoor plant kind of person.

So, like any educated but clueless person, I ventured down the street to the library. I should mention here that by library I mean a building that was smaller than my house and probably contained the same number of books as my son's bookcase, but, nonetheless, the sign said Public Library so I showed up eagerly perusing the garden section. You might imagine that a branch libary in the inner city would not have a large garden section and you'd be right. But, a few books was all I needed to at least take a risk and try planting a few things. My mom bought us a rose to plant to mark the new adventure of home-owning and moving to the city and I proudly planted it in our muddy back yard in a sad little corner, with no clue what I was doing.

Well, years passed. I read more books. I learned how to transplant, I learned how to make bulbs bloom again and again, how to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Just this year I built my own plant growing system and grew all my annuals from seed. And what have I learned? Gardening is pretty darn hard work but also one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It takes patience...when you plant a seed in January and have to wait for it to actually flower in May. When you wait for that tiny little shrub to double in size over 5 years and actually start to fill in. When you have to scrub your nails for 10 minutes every night just to try to get the dirt out from under them- I'd rather be wrist deep in dirt than use garden gloves, in case you were wondering. It just feels good, maybe some deep connection with my youth and making mud pies.

But the deeper lesson I've learned here is that mud seems to be deeply therapeutic for me. After a long day at work or a trying day of parenting, sometimes the most relaxing thing I can do is go outside, grab my shovel and dig a big hole. I'm willing to spend 6 hours in the blazing sun edging my flower beds because all the while I'm working, I'm not thinking. I'm not brooding or worrying or rehashing a conversation or planning the next 20 things I need to do. I'm just being and enjoying and I'm doing it in this beautiful creation that God has made and invited me to participate in cultivating. And weeks or months later, when I do sit down with a cup of coffee and just breathe it all in, it's beautiful. Not just because I have worked hard but because the Lord has brought me into his most beautiful visual creations. He has taught me how to care for them, to prune them, to love them...and then gifted me with the simple task of just sitting among it all in rest and joy, without agendas or lists.

A friend recently told me that people of my Myers-Briggs, ISTJ's, are often attracted to gardening because it's this chance to sort of leave all the control and need to be ordered behind and just get dirty. I see that. Being among the flowers and the earth and the worms and all the different scents that you just drink in is, for me, experiencing a kind of purity, a kind of embracing of that part of me that resists some of my more manic tendencies.

So, when I'm finally done with this season's huge task of mulching a billion flower beds, I'll continue to find new ways to cover myself with backyard mud. It seems to me to be nature's sweetest therapy. And probably, in the midst of it, I'll teach my son to make mud pies too.


  1. Carolyn,

    Thanks for this post! One of my seminary courses this semester is "Bible & Care of the Earth" ---- we are learning all sorts of things about community gardens and urban farming and Scripture (and of course reading lots of Wendell Berry!). I have the opposite of a green thumb (would that be a purple thumb??) but the description of your gardening journey is inspiring to me... perhaps I will try it, too!


  2. PS. Here is one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems, entitled "February 2, 1968":

    In the dark of the moon, in flying
    snow, in the dead of winter,
    war spreading, families dying, the
    world in danger,

    I walk the rocky hillside, sowing