A Writer’s Guide to Organic Growing
May 21, 2019 § 9 Comments
By Rebecca Gummere
It goes like this. In December, seeing a miraculous remnant of green nestled beside your house, you rescue the tiny idea of a plant and bring it inside, placing it among the thirsty coleus and trailing tradescantia and the shy pink geranium. You tend it all through the winter, uncertain of what it will become. You think you know, though, what manner of vine it is, already excited for how the leaves will unfurl and the tendrils will trail around your living room, all grace and beauty and color and light.
Then one day as it is taking shape you see the thing, really see it, and you realize it is not what you believed it to be at all. It is not the elegant vine you thought, with smooth leaves of many shades of green. But, okay, you make a deal. You recognize it now as a fragrant wild-growing herb many consider a weed. You adjust your expectations. In the summer it will offer tiny yellow flowers, and you can put a sprig of it in your iced tea.
Some weeks later you look more closely. The leaves, now covered with hair-like spikes, give off no aroma at all when crushed. Not the wild herb, then? What the hell? And now comes a sense of betrayal, the effort you’ve put into caring for this thing, bringing water, freshening with rich soil, moving it from window to window to chase the sunlight, and all of it coming to naught. It is as if you fell madly in love, only to waken one morning next to an ogre.
You should toss the whole mess into the weeds, let it go back to the earth. And yet…this living thing, and your investment of time and hope while cold winds howled, does that count for nothing?
You grudgingly decide to keep it, see what happens next. After all, the days are lengthening, the snow has melted, and your sudden better mood has stirred a dormant curiosity. Winter ends, you move all the plants out onto the front porch, and when you water them, you eye with mingled suspicion and wonder the messy tangle in the small clay pot set apart from the others.
One morning, while examining the plant, a bruised leaf gives off the familiar scent, and you realize, it is the wild herb after all! And now you begin to see, you think you get it – in its infant state, not yet fully developed, the plant could not look, or seem, or feel, or smell like what it would become. Patience, you remind yourself, is a virtue. You repot the plant in a larger container with fresh new soil, and set it beside the other growing things, ready, even eager to see what the next phase of development will bring.
The plant is teaching you that you are only partly in charge of its final form. You are moving toward acceptance of the mysteries surrounding the development of living matter, most of which happens while you are not looking, most of which happens in dimming and darkness.
All of this is to say: Writers, do not give up. (I say this as one who recently did but found I could not fully take to it.)
The propagation of living, growing things, which our stories most surely are, often means a lot will happen without our permission. Keep going anyway. Just because you don’t yet know exactly what the work will become does not mean its future is not already woven into its secret architecture, which you will uncover through your faithful tending. (Is this not the very definition of organic?)
I have come to believe there are no wasted efforts in gardening or writing. All is useful, even if only for the momentary peace that comes with turning over good soil or unearthing a hidden bone of your own story. And keep in mind, cuttings that seem unsuccessful on their own can be trimmed, rooted, repotted, grafted.
Keep writing, using the tools of your craft – rake, hoe, trowel, tiller, fertilizer, pruner – and trust you can go from idealized version to unexpected wildness to mystery and revelation.
Just don’t quit.
Rebecca Gummere’s work has appeared in The Daily Beast, O, The Oprah Magazine, the Masters Review Anthology, Vol. VII, and other publications. She is currently working on a memoir about a recent nine-month solo cross-country journey, Chasing Light. She blogs at www.rebeccagummere.com.