Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter
Dear Night Gardeners,
Oh, the garden… The end of this phase of the project, small summer hourglass where each grain of sand is an exposure, an envelope of light.
This summer project ended, aptly, on a new moon, Sept 15 – not because of the sky’s absolute darkness, but because each new moon, of course, signals a new beginning.
How happy I’ve been, working away outside at night (my children – my parents – tucked in bed), with sometimes no light or little light, getting bitten by mosquitoes, startled by groundhogs or red squirrels in the bushes, too warm under a plaid 80s anorak with many pockets for my tools. The moon, always a different moon, new, gibbous, or full, waxing and waning over the course of the summer. The sky always a different sky, mottled with cloud, heavy with rain, or clear with stars and stars into the billions. The sky, a big bucket dumping down gifts on certain nights, light light light. Otherwise, me, stumbling with cameras and tripods and a pretty useless light meter, using guesswork, counting steamboats in my head, sometimes 400 or more. The lake, a constant presence, subdued, glowing, its immediate, breathtaking quiet, save for the loons (or what my cousin swore were coyotes) and the shrill of crickets. And always, the thickness of night, unskirtable, something to revel in.
And now. Now the garden will be put to bed. My mother, perhaps Andre instead – she is tired – will do the work of chopping the stems down, composting the debris, and then some weeding. Not the Russian Sage – she won’t do that till Spring when it sends out new shoots, then you can cut it back, or the Honeysuckle. Now there are only a few fall Asters, the yellow flower outside her bedroom window (whatever it is), and Hollyhock, almost finished. Then chop chop chop, she says.
This week my mother will have her blood tested again. These tests read her platelets and other things, the general level of cancer in her body, the number we hope will go down out of the tens of thousands into the hundreds, and into the tens. So far it has been going down with each chemo, but there are no guarantees. She has already had two big surgeries and a grueling round of chemo last year, where that number sank to seventeen or something, lower than the number in healthy, cancer-free bodies.
“Oh look at the garden! It’s just so – bloomish!” my mum would say this summer when she arrived back from her city hospital trips.
Bloomish. Yes she is. Amazingly resilient, and bloomish. She gets knocked back with interventions and poisons and then flourishes again.
I’m proud of her. I’m learning a lot from her about the things no one ever talks about, the things no one ever tells you. She is just managing this whole horrible cancer thing with such grace.
August just turned 8 and has announced that the meaning of life is to be happy. Emmet (age 3) probably thinks it has something to do with sugar. I’ll bet, for my mother, it has something at least to do with what you can do with a patch of earth. That and family – and friends, of course. All of you. You who cheer her on from the sidelines, or who, by reading these words, send well wishes her way. It’s nice to know you, to have you there. It really does make a difference. Thank you. I’m very excited to move on to the next phase now, making your print(s) and sending them to you.
For your last postcard from the garden I have two photographs. The first one, the one of the moon, looks as though I’ve used some digital trickery. But I haven’t. The camera moved during the exposure, nothing more, making this image. It’s for my mum. To thank her. For everything, really, though especially for giving me permission to make this work, to “expose” her during this difficult time. But this image of the moon can also be for your mother, too, if you’d like. Some of you have written in to say you also have a mother or someone close who is sick. Sick or well, I’m happy to share. The moon is for sharing, primarily.
The second photograph I’m putting out there, though I don’t think it’s the best photograph from the summer. But when I look at it I can’t help but think of my mother, of her palpably, corporeally. I think of her skin, glowing.
Right now, my mother seems so healthy. So well. So happy. So permanent. So soft. She’s just like she’s always been, only softer, a little quieter too, reading, resting. But also, very beautiful with her silver hair and luminous skin. I keep thinking about her skin. It this secret thing I love about her. It’s hard to describe – but it is just soft, really soft, hairless, smooth, and no one I know has skin like hers.
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