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My View: An all-consuming love for gardening's graces

By Kari J. Winter

I must confess an open secret: every spring I fall into a hopeless love affair. Stolen time, neglected duties, sleepless nights. My neighbors see all the signs; one slipped in a sly comment about my “morning, noon, and night” mania.

During long winter months when I throw myself into work, memories of springs past provoke dread and anticipation, dueling feelings that duke it out like weeds at the edges of my mind.

When snow blankets the view from my window, I call a realtor, convinced that relocating to a condo would downsize my passion, the way flowers are contained in sedate containers, unlike the way they burst out of, say, a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.

The thought of O’Keeffe plunges me deep into glossy magazine dreams and schemes of coming pleasures. The realtor hands me a sales contract to sign. I study it, pen suspended in air, then tell her I need more time to consider.

My husband says I’m moody, but he goes along. When April rains begin, I panic at the prospect of returning to the heavy physicality of love: the bites, cuts, scratches, rashes, back aches, sore knees.

I tell my husband we could rent some senior housing, or move to a 200-square-foot studio in LA.

Kari J. Winter.

Then a local nursery holds its late-April 59-cent perennial sale, and bedlam breaks loose. Fellow gardeners of Western New York, you know I’m not speaking metaphorically. If you can’t fit another 300 babies into your already crowded garden, you don’t know the meaning of derangement.

Why do I do it? The language of love is not rational; its “reasons” are emotive, relational, visionary. A state of being.

The jump of the heart when a frog leaps into the pond or poses like a tiny Mona Lisa amid rocks and creeping jenny.

The gasp when hit by the fragrance of lilacs, irises, bee balm, or the rich dark earth itself.

The mesmerizing greens in every shade from chartreuse to the dark inner sanctum of ancient spruce and pine.

The fresh tingling flavor of fresh-picked veggies, lettuces, herbs, nasturtium flowers.

The cathedral of trees implanting the architecture of worship in one’s soul.

Enchanting geometries of tall grasses, pyramidal dwarf Alberta spruce, intricate layers of leaves and petals: primeval origins of elegance and grace.

Symphonies of birds, bull frogs, bees, cicadas, wind, waterfalls.

The manic comedy of squirrels, who specialize in outwitting every squirrel-proof bird feeder invented by humans.

The delicate orgies of hummingbirds and bees entering infinitely exquisite flowers. The engineering prowess of ants and wasps.

The warmth of sun and soil on skin: harbingers of resurrection and eternity.

A cloud of monarchs fluttering up from its feast of colorful nectars, profuse thanksgivings to butterfly weed.

The liberating swing from capitalist time to sacred time: hostas so huge they bespeak the dinosaur age; rocks and peonies that return the magic of childhood; robins, moles, and bunnies that hop out of Beatrix Potter.

The garden is life itself. I cling to it as fiercely as Heathcliff to Cathy. Until next winter, when I will downsize, I swear.

Kari J. Winter, of Clarence, is a professor in UB’s Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies.

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