I love winter. I love the snow. I love when it comes in droves and the very next day the world is white and sky is brilliant blue.
Gloomy days like today are a relief and offer the gifts of silence and contemplation. I can think more clearly on days like today. Nevertheless I sorely miss my temenos, my sacred grove by the pond, where in summer I go to read and write every early morning.
My temenos is paradise for me. There, as Salman Rushdie put it in another context (films and novels),* I like to think I have succeeded in making “secular revolts into the territory of the sacred.”
Paradise is an enclosure. The word comes from the Persian, pairidaeza, meaning “park.” Paradise is the walled garden, safe from the wilderness that frightens us. In the European Middle Ages, “paradise” came to mean the Church itself, Nature diminished in the equation. Almost from the beginning, humans — perhaps even more than other animals — have required security, like the Garden of Eden, perfect and self-contained.
Yet hard as we try to control our paradises, every absolute is immediately challenged. Nature does what Nature wants. The garden is sacred, but it is not religion, where humans control the in- and the outcomes. In a gorgeous, carefully planted stand of vibrant yellow tulips, a little redheaded sport might just pop up and wag rebelliously at us.
The garden emphasizes the contrast between the outside world and the inner. Gardens function as temenos against the hub-bub and profanity of our daily lives. We visit the garden to remind ourselves of higher realms, loftier states of being. Working in the garden, we immerse ourselves in the great labor of creation. To garden is to become conscious of our place on Earth and in the cosmos. To move in sync with NOW, and therefore grasp and live in harmony with ALWAYS.
With our labors — the small rituals of reaping, weeding, watering, harvesting — with rites of seasons, the building of community around the garden and with the stories and ideas we share, it is possible to renew our sense of place within Nature.
To make a garden is to make art. Like art, gardens mediate between the material and spiritual worlds without dogma or hierarchy. Like art, the garden is “never transfixed. Change,” Herbert Read wrote, “is the condition of art remaining art.” And so it is with gardens. Leave a garden alone for a few weeks and it will begin to quicken back to indigenous Nature.
*In a 1990 essay titled “Is Nothing Sacred?”