Today I was feeling celebratory, having just completed compiling the photographs for my upcoming book being published by Chelsea Green Publishing this winter. Exactly 200 photographs, arranged by chapter and entered into a spreadsheet that gave their order, title and caption. This process has taken three days and was the culmination of the initial phase of writing the book. Tomorrow I transfer everything to a zip drive, print a hard copy of the text, and overnight mail all of it up to Vermont.
So I was feeling celebratory while driving up through the hill towns to get raw milk from the farm that was the reason my wife and I moved to the area, where I learned to farm vegetables and milk cows. I stopped at the local hardware store to buy chicken feed and twine to string up the pole beans. And on my way back down, I decided to swing by the Bullitt Reservation.
The Bullitt Reservation is where, for three years, I was the property steward for the Trustees of Reservations, a land conservation group in Massachusetts that owns and manages over a hundred properties ranging from tracts of forest to large mansions. The Bullitt Reservation is on the modest end, a refurbished farmhouse and barn surrounded by gardens that serves as a regional office. For three years, my job was to design and build the gardens, repair the barn, build trails and teach workshops.
I left that job to pursue spooncarving as a career, and that first year was hard. Not only was I not gaining any traction with the spoons, the young fella that was hired to take over my job absolutely BUTCHERED the gardens, cutting back stuff that should not be cut back and weeded out all the flower seedlings of self-sowing annuals that I had been carefully cultivating for the last three years. I was devastated, seeing all the careful spaces I had nurtured obliterated by someone's ignorance. I left and didn't go back until today.
Today I thought what the heck, I should visit the property because this was where it all started. Without that job, I wouldn't have gotten into scything, which means I wouldn't have gotten into spooncarving. I wouldn't have started teaching workshops, which means I wouldn't have started teaching one-on-one lessons. By leaving that job the way I did, I was pushed into using Instagram when I would otherwise have chosen not to, and it was through Instagram that I reached out to Chelsea Green and got the book deal. So this place, and leaving this place, brought me to where I am today.
So imagine my surprise when I pulled up the circular drive and noticed that the gardens looked GOOD. The lavender I planted and painstakingly bedded each winter was thriving on the south-facing retaining wall. The blueberry bushes were getting big, the grape arbor I built was actually started to being covered with grapes I started as slips shoved in the ground, the flower beds were crowded with salvia, poppies, clovers, daisies. The strawberries under the hydrangeas I planted along the walkway were still there and the hydrangeas were actually getting big. The willow entrance to the garden towered over the path, and the peonies I planted had so many blooms they were tied up to stakes.
On every side were plants that I HAD PLANTED. It was the space I had envisioned, slightly stripped down, but more complex by virtue of its very maturity. The woodchips on the paths were fresh. The lupines were blooming in the wildflower meadow. The orchard I had planted had mostly survived. The lily of the valley had spread.
I was overwhelmed with this sense of joy and surprise and gratitude, that this thing I had started was not only still here, but had come into its own in the ensuing three years since I left. And I was reminded that life is like that: where we are right now is the result of everything that has come before. We may think we are never, ever, EVER going to see the garden we dream of, or the skill we aspire to, or the success we pursue, but then we turn around and realize it has happened. Not through willing it to be so. Rather, time has done the work. We began something, and stick with it, even neglect it at times, but nudge it forward just enough, and time does the rest.
Guys, the garden is beautiful. There were tears in my eyes driving home, so I turned up the Brandi Carlisle and belted along.
6/23/2018 09:15:51 am
Thanks for sharing these reflections, Emmet. I’ve experienced much freedom since learning how to live in the both/and of this world: that we are both powerful beyond measure and yet have so little power. Time and the river current will always be stronger than us, and it’s a beautiful thing to find peace in that knowledge. I have a deep appreciation for your writing and your carving.
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My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.