16th February, 2018
Call it hibernation. Otherwise I have no idea why I haven’t written here for so long. I’ve had no desire to do much of anything for a few weeks, although I did spend one week feeling bad about that. But then I surrendered. It’s mid-winter, an appropriate time to lie dormant, like much of nature at this time of year. And once I surrendered, I thoroughly enjoyed curling up on the couch, gazing at the fire, reading, watching BBC dramas and just generally being a lazy cow.
I do realize that I am fortunate to be in a position to be able to give in to this burrowing. Lord knows, I remember well the many years when, like the majority of us, I could afford no such luxury. Yeas of Upstate New York winters; up at dawn to ready my daughter for school, scrape the ice off the windshield, pack the lunch, and after dropping her off, driving the often treacherous mountain road to work. We do what we have to do when we have to do it.
I also remember that every year from about mid-January to mid-February, that while I was able to perform my duties I was often grumpy or depressed during that period. So, yes, I count myself fortunate to enjoy what is probably a natural state of being at this time of year. Here, in Tuscany, while the farmers don’t exactly come to a full stop, they, too, have slowed down. This is the time of year for repairing and pruning, neither of which, barring rare freezing temperatures, require those who work the land to be continually looking at the sky in order to beat a storm before it damages crops.
It’s an adagio time of year, a time for replenishing our tanks. And so, having embraced lethargy for a few weeks I’m suddenly raring to go! I’m back to work on a canvas and have jumped back into the new novel. Like nature, my sap is rising.
The garden, too, is showing signs of awakening. All the roses, climbers and bushes alike, are already sprouting new leaves.
I’m one of the gardeners who like to let it all go wild in the winter, even though it makes for what other gardeners might consider a mess of dried stalks.
By leaving it to itself I get a lot of volunteers in the spring; new plants sprouting from wind-blown seeds appearing in unexpected places. Some of these I leave where they are; they have chosen well. Others I find poking their heads up in places that will serve neither them, nor us, well. Like the baby Gaura I found yesterday, right in the middle of a path. These cheeky strays I will ease out of their comfort zone come spring and relocate them where I hope they will agree with my decision.
I love this time of year in the garden; love the smell of fallen leaves rotting into the earth, in many cases providing added nutrients. I love poking around in flower beds and borders to see what’s hiding. Like the tiny clusters at the base of the Autumn Glory sedums, their glory long gone even though they hold their rusty heads high.
Yesterday I discovered that a swath of ornamental grasses have made babies this winter (so much for lying dormant!) How sweet to see the newborns sheltered by the adults.
And how easy it is to be seduced by all these sightings into thinking that spring is here. This is the time of year when a lot of early pruning takes place, so I decided to get a jump start on the roses and looked forward to doing likewise with the olive trees last weekend. But the locals knew better. No need for a meteorologist here…just pay attention to the farmers. Fortunately, my young assistant, Giovanni, arrived on Saturday making that particularly Italian ‘tsk’ sound between the teeth. Born and bred here, and with a degree in agriculture, he told me no pruning for two weeks, a cold snap is coming. And sure enough, four of the last five mornings we’ve woken to a hard frost. If I’d followed my impulse, the roses would have been killed off before theirs cuts had a chance to heal over.
Nature is my teacher when it comes to patience…a virtue I was not granted at birth. There’s a big difference between instinct and impulse. Instinct has surety; impulse has desire. I have good instincts for the most part, but my impulsive behavior has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years. So, yes, I was a bit pissed off at first; Mother Nature interfering with my impulse like that. Now what to do with my rising sap? Well, fortunately I have a canvas to prune and a novel to fertilize.
Living here in Tuscany I’m aware that my internal rhythms are being fine-tuned by nature. I’m learning to take my time, knowing that one day it will run out and that I, like everyone, will become a finished work in progress. The canvas that I have now almost completed has taken a year. This is the longest I have ever worked on a painting. But it took that long to go from this:
The two pieces of canvas attached to the larger canvas, on which I have written a poem, in English on the left and Italian on the right, are the canvas slings that were on the two deckchairs that Gianni made for us the first summer we came here…in 2011. Last year, the wooden frames rotted beyond repair, and yet I could not discard the canvases. They seemed to hold the essence our time together and the journey we have made since settling here.
These were our halcyon days
When we entered the mystery,
Taking our youth through the
Gossamer membrane lit bright
By the afternoon sun.
And we journey on:
Two Inshalls, reclining
In the ephemeral dusk.
The novel, which I stated last March, has far to go, unlike the previous one, the first draft of which took 6 months. What I am learning by living deep in nature, is that everything has its time: its beginning, its growth, and its death. For most of my life my fear of death made me feel that I must continually be achieving something in order to be alive. Now, as well as having revised my notion of success, I am also letting go of the need to achieve, or rather, I am coming to understand that everything we do is an achievement. Including hibernating, without which the slow rising of the sap runs the risk of being spent before its time.
With love to you all.