The Garden, My Teacher
I came to Maui to help my lifelong friend Bert in his garden. I have known Bert since 1978. The externals of our lives oscillated between convergence and divergence over these many years. No matter how different in external appearances, we always found common ground in our deep interest in waking up. This is the first time I have helped him in his garden.
Bert lives in Hana. I live in a hut on Bert’s property. Ordinary eyes would see a shed/kuti. Extraordinary eyes would see a Jade Vine Palace, with the jade vine wrapping her loving arms around the back, sides and starting to crawl over the tin roof. About 30% of the leeward surface is covered in screens. There are no windows. Right now there are no switches, just extension cords to plug lights and other devices in. The next time it rains so hard we can’t garden, Bert will help me install a switch. That will be an exciting day!
This kuti comes with a kitty whose name is Lei Momi, a sink and fridge, and cold running water. It’s equipped with a hot plate, a blender and a loft that I have to navigate several steps to get up onto. Lei Momi is very pleased I have come. It’s been high time that a human is at her command to rub her tummy, bend her ears, and listen to all that she has to say. It’s been a while since I lived in a kuti. Still tender from losing Kona, it is lovely to have a kitty to cuddle. I feel at home here.
Hana has gentle rain most days. The tropical sun and the absence of harsh winds translate the garden into semi-order in the midst of jungle chaos. Things grow so fast and furious here that it takes a lot of effort to keep up. Getting rid of unwanted vines, weeds and aggressive trees is no small effort. But yes, paradise is paradise. The first morning I was here, we harvested 6 papayas, a breadfruit, star fruit, oranges, and passion fruit. I have the sounds of the ocean lulling me to sleep at night; I go for swims in the Venus pond, a mere 12 minutes walk away before I begin gardening. I look out of the screens into the garden and smell the night blooming jasmine. I eat food that is so electric with vitality that the body lights up with each bite.
Bert planted his half acre with a lot of trees. In addition to papaya, banana, lemon, orange, pomegranate, fig, mulberry, curry leaf, kaffir lime and cacao there are many exotic fruits. I remember a small fraction of their names: soursop, star fruit, noni, white and black sapote, tree apple, breadfruit, and miracle fruit. Yesterday was an exciting day! Two new fruits that I had never before tasted became ripe on the same day – the tree grape and the Mamey Sapote. The tree grape was like a concord grape that explodes with flavor. Saying the Mamey Sapote tastes like sweet potato with brown sugar on it gives you a rough idea, but doesn’t dial into the custard-like texture, the aroma, and the nourishing filling experience eating one.
There are pleasures in paradise. But it is also true that paradise isn’t always paradise. One night I didn’t sleep because the rats kept me awake. Once we catch the rats, and I can clean the mouse and rat smell out, I will also do something so the cockroaches don’t return. There are two inch garden spiders that spin huge extremely strong webs. These spiders and their webs are everywhere. Already I have walked into one. Spider web in your face! Ugh! The slugs devour berries and leafy greens. There are no easy solutions to keeping the slug population down. And then there are the mosquitos. I have bites all over my arms and legs. Paradise is not delivered by a maître d’. Harvesting the fruits and vegetables takes effort and sometimes finesse. Bert tells me that getting a coconut and then opening it to eat the meat means you have to take an hour nap afterwards. I haven’t tried yet.
Today I learned that trees prefer compost that comes from their own fruit, from their own leaves. I never thought about it before. But it makes sense: what is familiar from within is nourishing.
The garden teaches me different ways of thinking. Someone came and gave us three huge avocados. This morning Bert asked if I wanted some. No, I already have some in my fridge. Then I shifted and started thinking about what I could do with them – make chocolate eclairs. Put them on seaweed – avocado sushi. Super simple. Super delicious. The garden takes me away from focusing on what I want and puts me into flow with how to make use of what is being offered. This catalyzed an explosion of creativity combining flavors that I have never tasted together before.
I came and was full of aches and pains. My heart was heavy with sadness; for friends who have lost homes, my brothers and sisters who are pinned against the compounding stressors of Covid, financial and racial injustice against the backdrop of a climate that continues to get warmer, where we see extreme weather and fires in expanding areas around the globe. The garden holds me through my waves of grief, encourages me not to hold back, but to let grief flow through me.
I’m learning pacing, and listening in a way where I can discern the difference between throwing my energy out of my body in order to get something done, and engaging just enough energy to do it for a little while. Then rest. Watch the palms gently swaying in the wind. I scan; are there papayas, cherries, noni fruits ready to pick? I don’t know the names of the butterflies or the birds that fly by. I take their flight and song as part of what helps me rest. When, after I have rested, hydrated and I still feel tired, it’s time to stop. The project may not be done. But I have to stop. Maybe a creative project in the kitchen is possible when gardening is not.
Here, the land holds me, welcomes me into myself, and allows me to notice and feel into many layers: the joy and pleasure of being surrounded by beauty and the vitality and the self-sufficiency of eating meals from the land. The joy of being with my dear friend and the rich conversations we are having. The creativity of cooking and doing new things. Then there is another layer that I have heard Bert describe, and I’m only just beginning to feel myself. When I work in the garden, sweat and labor with the ground, weed around the very plants that I harvest later, I become part of a constellation – it isn’t just me and what I’m doing. But the plants, the land as a living organism also are playing their part. Being part of a constellation, we impact each other. I enter into the constellation, give myself to it completely and become part of the garden even before I have eaten the food. The food changes, mirrors me and becomes more bio available as I eat. All of this makes it a lot more possible to ride the waves of grief when they come, let them move through me and release me.
I’m tired now as I write. But it is a deep and full tiredness, with contentment and gratitude underpinning it.
I invite you to join me in my beautiful and vibrant world here in Hana. Join me on Sunday, November 8 at 6:00 pm Pacific Time for a slideshow and video presentation to help you immerse yourself more into this healing world with me.
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