We have the best soil in New York State. In fact, it’s literally the state soil. I didn’t know there was such a thing until we moved into our place 17 years ago. At that time, our neighbor would wander over and say, “Our soil is rich. It’s almost too rich.” I’d smile. How can anything be too rich?
I dug into that beautiful loam with gusto. In just a few short years, our half-acre of lawn was transformed from a green bowling alley into an oasis of fruit trees, perennial beds and a large vegetable garden, complete with a campfire, twinkling lights, chimes, and comfy seating here and there. It’s been sanctuary and solace through troubling times and occasionally difficult years.
Over the last three years or so, trouble has come to paradise: a lone deer has found her way in. When I first realized it was happening I began to put up fences – strong ones in places, tough netting in others. During winter I’d watch for tracks and reinforce the borders. I started using those stinky sprays. But she was a sly one. She found her way through, no matter the barrier.
In late May she began to come regularly and stay longer. Day or night, she’d be in the backyard, looking startled when I ran outside waving my arms and yelling. A couple of times she took curious steps toward me, sniffing the air before leaping off, soaring gracefully over the lower fencing at the northwest corner of our yard.
In time, she ate every last daylily blossom and shredded the Japanese anemone. She mowed hostas to the ground and left her calling cards all over our small lawn. It finally came down to an afternoon when in the midst of her snacking on tree leaves, I flew out the door cursing and threw a pillow at her since it was the first thing at hand – if I had a rock, I would have hurled it. I noticed that she was slower moving and clumsy that day and thought out loud, Great, she’s about to drop a fawn and now we’ll have two. I stomped back into the house fuming, not realizing that our 27-year- old son Jake was watching this unfold. He kind of smiled and said gently, You know, I’ve never seen you like this before.
You know, I’ve never seen you like this before. I’ve never seen you like this before…
Those words have tumbled through my mind for months.
How has this come to be upsetting? Do I believe I have so little that I can’t spare any? In a world with so much strife, why does this take up any room in my head at all? And how has a person with a non-violent disposition and soulful intention become so mean at home?
Shifts in perception don’t happen overnight. First, I simply watched her. I noticed she had a large growth on her right hind leg, marking her so to speak, and oddly, making her – well, real. A being. One morning she leveled some of my favorites and I thought, why not just move them inside the taller fenced area? It’s embarrassing to admit how in doing so my stress level dropped. I began to more carefully note her favorite foods. To a plant they are the garden hooligans, the pretty flowers that don’t add anything to our table and that were planted because they were the fast spreaders, filling in the spaces quickly.
As I noted those aggressive drifts of deer buffet it’s as if the fog cleared and I began to see what was right in front of me for years: my little bit of paradise was unkempt, rampant in that oh-so-rich soil. The plants were all overgrown. Lovely, small, understated things had long been crowded out; when did that happen? I haven’t seen some of them in three years, maybe four. For someone who teaches about mindful presence, it would all be quite funny if it weren’t so lame.
That wonderful time during our Courage & Renewal facilitator preparation in which we sat in reflection about abundance and scarcity has come to mind lately. It’s easy for me to think of abundance as good, scarcity as bad. But sometimes, healthy restraint and lightening up – a sacred no – is necessary. As a friend of mine often says, too much of a good thing is still too much.
In September we began to renovate our garden beds. We’ve replaced many of those choked drifts with quieter, slower growing selections, some of them healing plants that the deer won’t pummel. It’s funny how one thing leads to another. Inside our home it seems stuffed full of things, too. We have young friends who are just starting out and have enjoyed taking our overflow.
Our place seems to be letting out a long exhale. Paring down, letting go. Now that autumn has come, I appreciate a new garden element that I’ve never thought about before: spaciousness. While form, texture, and color get top billing during the late show of the season, space is there in between everything as the best supporting actress, making everything else shine.
And the doe indeed has a fawn. Off at the edges, they can find some of their sweet treats, where they can graze in passing and keep right on going. I am not going to pretend I’m thrilled to the core when I see them. That kind of change will take time. But I am curious. They aren’t visiting as often, now that their food source is dwindling and I almost – almost – miss them.
Most importantly, I’m taking a deep breath and noticing what is happening here at home. Weeding out those seeds of inattention, the branches of greed, and those insidious roots of hatred that can so often creep in and begin, right in my own backyard.
Marcia Eames-Sheavly is a Courage & Renewal facilitator and a university horticulture educator, who has devoted most of her professional time to bringing people and plants together, whether students in the classroom, online learners around the world, or community members from New York to Belize. The recipient of national teaching and writing awards, she presents internationally and has authored numerous publications, book chapters, articles, and recently, a book of poetry – So Much Beauty.