October is one of my favorite times in the garden. The weather is pleasant and I find myself less manic than in spring. I enjoy the garden more now. As the plants prepare for dormancy, there is simply less for me to do. I’ll defer decisions about what to plant for dark winter evenings when green thoughts are necessary for my sanity. Now I move through the garden with a calm repose. The boxwood, yews, and espaliered firethorn get once last clip before the winter; sprawling summer annuals are cut back; and I make a few strategic transplants. Otherwise, I walk and look at the angled, autumnal light as it falls over the plants.
The garden is in its second year. Despite the fact that certain parts of the garden have an adolescent awkwardness, the garden is beginning to look a bit more established. As the garden settles into itself, I have a strange sensation that I’ve never felt before: the feeling of dominion.
“Dominion” is sort of an archaic, unfashionable sentiment, isn’t it? It reeks of colonialism and the idea of man controlling—even dominating—nature for profit. Not only is it a politically incorrect sentiment, but it is silly as well when applied to a tiny perennial border on a tenth of an acre lot. This is not Downtown Abbey, after all. But it is precisely what I feel. Two years of breaking the earth, planting, watering, re-planting, and endless gardening have resulted in the creation of a place that is anything but natural. I’m not simply a proud owner; I am the gardener who reigns over this plot. It is my dominion—not just a place, but an expression of identity and self.
That a garden can be an expression of identity is an interesting idea to me. The pre-modern man believed identity is a product of birth. You are who your father was, where you live, and what your social station is. In many ways, it is good that we’ve liberated identity from birthright. But modern man has perhaps too much power to dictate identity. We live in a post-authentic age. I have to remind myself that each time I participate in social media. Social media creates a seductive mirage, a watery image of our selves. Identity is not created by what you tweet, but what you do. What you create. What you love.
A slant of light shifts through the trees and illuminates a tall grass in my border. The October light is soft yet intense. The grass seems to glow from within, vibrating in incandescent ecstasy. I raise my hand to shield my eyes, but stop and instead stare into it. The intensity of the light makes my eyes water. Standing on the path, I try to absorb the moment. But just as quickly as it began, the sun slips again on the horizon and the moment is over. The grass turns a dull gray in the dusk.
It is enough though. I may have dominion over this plot, but the life that animates it is from beyond. I am grateful for a handful of luminous, radiant moments. They remind me who I am.