Grow, Purge, Renew

IMG_5107When I was a child, once a year my family would conduct what my uncle the Marxist called “the great purge.” We would cull from our closets old clothes and other unwanted stuff, and make a giant charitable donation to Goodwill Industries, a local organization aiding the developmentally disabled. There was a sense of cleansing and renewal as we stuffed worn jeans into plastic trash bags. Letting go of unneeded possessions instantly created new space, new possibilities, and soon thereafter these spaces would be claimed by fresh clothes, slightly larger than the old ones and more in tune with whatever the fashion key was at the moment.

I still try to execute a great purge once a year, though I’m finding as I grow older that the fewer clothes I have the happier I am with my closet. Where the concept of clearance-and-renewal is most compelling to me these days is in the back yard, in the dirt.

One of my abiding joys is gardening. The ravishing roses and elegant lilies, the majestic trees and demure daisies that dazzle the eye like a drunken painter splashing dollops of pigment on a green canvas, offer visual joys that can be understood by anyone with functional eyes. The simple pleasure of looking at a flower or a ripening fruit is the reward for the hours spent watering and feeding and weeding.

The complementary pleasure, and perhaps the one that compels me back to childhood, is pruning, the salutary (and necessary) process of removing that which isn’t needed so that which you desire may flourish. By cutting away dead blooms, removing floral tendrils of dubious health — by conducting a gentle purge –the gardener allows new life to conquer death. Nature does this with herds of antelope and flocks of geese. Domesticated bushes get help from friends with watering cans and shears.

The act of cutting back, which seems on its face an act of destruction, is actually an affirmation of growth. Gardening doesn’t merely reward us with pretty plants to sate the eye. It gives us hope that all things, even the decayed and malignant, my be renewed and reborn.

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