Memorial Day ushers in the summer for most Americans. When I was a child, summer days burst with wonder and adventure. Even the most jaded adult, I believe, still clings to a notion of summer as a time of leisure, pleasure, and contentment all tinged with magic. Sit in your yard or your neighborhood park and listen to the birds sing as the evening falls. Then, tell me if you disagree.
Since my wife and I bought our home, gardening has become my warm-weather avocation. Each year, we attempt to plant more flowers, more vines, and more vegetables. Some plants thrive and bestow us with a bounty of color and even food. Others sadly sit in the soil until giving up the ghost.
While tending to our tomato plants or sitting beneath the comforting shade of our cherry trees, I find myself experiencing the aforesaid wonder of a child. I watch the bees buzz from blossom to blossom. I listen to the squirrels dash across the fence. I breathe in the wet scent of the earth. I feel the refreshing touch of the wind upon my skin. In the garden, I lose sight of the world, its troubles and my own.
In New Seeds of Contemplation, the Trappist monk and writer, Thomas Merton explored the pursuit and practice of a contemplative life drawn from Catholic and Eastern thinking. He offered readers different tools or paths to meditation: prayer, spiritual readings, Scripture, and nature. Merton wrote:
“The sweep and serenity of a landscape, fields and hills, are enough to keep a contemplative riding the quiet interior tide of his peace and his desire for hours at a time.”
Merton’s insight helps explain the attraction of gardening and nature to many people. Nature–whether it be a backyard vegetable patch, a mountain trail, or an ocean beach–grants us the space to escape the noise of the world and the even greater distraction of our own minds. During this respite, we might encounter the divine.
My past several posts have grazed from topic to topic, rarely touching upon the titular center of this project: Jersey City and its rich history and cultural landscape. Sometime in the next few weeks, I will return home.