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Édouard Manet: The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil (1874)
"I'm now blessed with the sacred obligation to tend what we built …"

I think of myself as a caretaker. Now that The Muse and I have largely reclaimed the yard, which really needed very little real work to reclaim, now that Planting's pretty much concluded, Tending time arrives. Sure, odd corners still remain enqueued for my attention, but a proper garden retains some wild uncultivated and uncultured space, for balance if for nothing else, a touch of Wabi-Sabi in the mix. The Muse disagrees with me on this point, not necessarily philosophically, but practically. The wild corner could get out of hand, but then a caretaker like myself understands this, too, and keeps a watchful eye. I hold no grand plan for Tending our garden and I've yet to solidify any routine, other than to remember to water the front porch fuchsias and the kitchen garden. Everything else might be capable of taking care of itself, or so I tell myself lest I feel overwhelmed by my budding obligations. Nobody else in this world is capable of Tending this particular garden, and truth told, not even The Muse knows the rhythm of this place as well as I, for I accomplished more than designing it. I scraped and scratched and schlepped this yard into creation. The yard taught me how to tend it as I worked it.

Ten thousand little cues only hinted at what this garden needed, and I'm still learning how to read the cues remaining.
No clear pattern has yet emerged. The Muse's son, who tended this place in our absence, set up an automated watering system featuring seven little timers which would turn on faucets even in his absence, no human intervention needed. Mowing would displace sprinklers, but he'd configured them like a major might array an artillery battery, finely targeted to take full advantage of the enemy. The enemy here, as in every garden, might just be entropy and its accompanying disorder. Intruding weeds grow extremely slowly at first and can only ever burst through defenses if the watchman's dozing. A moment kneeling when a weed first appears will save many minutes a few days later. Things only ever get out of hand through inattention. I cannot yet turn my Tending into a routine.

Caretaking might seem a lowly position, far beneath the designer's or the builder's. I'm the user left in charge of others' complex creation, one who need not ever concern himself about the backflips required to produce my ward. I "just" tend it, though I comes to think of myself as more than the manager, but the practical father, like a captain, not the shipbuilder, comes to intimately know his vessel. I live indentured, never free to leave for long. I maintain a wary attention which never really wavers. I notice pretty much everything without necessarily responding to every cue. I'm learning and might never actually come to know very much of anything except how to observe emerging patterns. Some might say I've become a slave to my assignment but I think of myself as more of a humble servant. I live for and within humbled service.

What of freedom? I've known the freedom found in exile. The renter maintains without tending, he might care but remains enjoined from caretaking. However much he might come to know, he's not creating a lasting impression, just a temporary understanding. He knows no future and feeds on his past, aching for a less impermanent position. He'd gladly surrender his freedom for encumbering service again, but that commission's denied him. He serves only lesser gods demanding less of him than he needs to give. His liberty slowly smothers. Freedom comes not from infinite latitude for spontaneous action, but from feeling intimately tied to something. A child. A pet. A yard. A house. We adopt these not to limit liberty but to enhance it. Tied to one place, I'm free to roam within a smaller infinity, one I can almost, some days, manage to wrap my arms around. It seems to appreciate my presence, unlike the larger infinities I will not mention. I once ached to leave this place. I searched for a bus heading anyplace else, to somewhere I might get discovered, but I now sense that I was fleeing discovering myself here, denying a curious birthright and an even more curious freedom. I just needed to be Tending something, not necessarily to create anything or anyone or get myself discovered.

The mark I'll leave on this world when I exit will likely not seem obvious to anyone. Tending leaves little behind. It exists only in the present and a narrowly foreseeable future. It sees almost to the end of iris season and dreams of digging up and respacing, not of changing any world, just improving it the tiniest bit. Tending's not trying to change this world, but accepting it as it is and finding good reasons for loving it such that it seems to love back. It seems to love back but only if love's extended first. Tending's just one damned thing after another and the same things over and over and over again, a small infinity properly sized for someone like me. Yes, I'm the one who dug the garden The Muse designed, but those were merely temporary occupations. I'm now blessed with the sacred obligation to tend what we built, and therein lies a deeper reason for SettlingInto this place.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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