“then it is that you must come up from the misty realms of darkness”

from underground

This a story I’ve told before but I need to remember it this morning, and maybe you do too. About 8 years ago, we had to have our septic field rebuilt. Our vegetable garden was built over the field and we had to remove every perennial plant, including an apple tree, raspberry canes, gooseberry bushes, many roses, and herbs. (The garden was fenced against deer so it was a safe place to grow roses and other things the deer love.) It was really hard work but also an opportunity. The original garden evolved as I had time, time to go out with a pick and try to loosen rubble, remove stones, tuck in some compost, and plant a row of peas. But once we’d removed every plant we could, though I knew I would never remember where all the bulbs planted at the edges of beds were and I was resigned (more or less) to abandoning them, and once the contractor (a guy we knew, also a gardener) arrived with a willingness to scoop up every last teaspoon of hard-won rich soil to put in a heap to wait until the field had been rebuilt, we had the chance to plan beds in a more orderly fashion. John measured and then gathered up suitable lumber to make boxes for raised beds. We had planks from a cedar that had to be taken down a few years earlier, we had cedar boards from decking over a second storey roof that we’d replaced with a lighter, less labour-intensive surface, and he drew up plans, When the contractor was finished smoothing out the rubble of the field with the bucket of his machine, a process surprisingly moving to watch, like a tender ballet, he carefully moved the soil back into the areas John indicated and the boxes were built around the soil. The work was done just after Christmas.

Two months later, I was digging around the edges of the garden to replant the roses that had been quietly waiting in pots. I was digging as deeply as I could, maybe a foot, because under the soil was that rubble, called “porous fill”, so think of rocks, mostly hand-sized, though some were bigger, when I realized something was in my shovel that wasn’t rock. It was a clump of crocus, blooming so beautifully that I began to cry. Purple crocus, each flower open, filled with pollen and light. I thought of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the story of a mother’s loss and her daughter’s journey to independence (albeit through an abduction), of revenge and acceptance, and maybe most of all, it’s a story of hope.

But when the earth starts blossoming with fragrant flowers of springtime,
flowers of every sort, then it is that you must come up from the misty realms of darkness,
once again, a great thing of wonder to gods and mortal humans alike.

                    –trans. Gregory Nagy

There are purple crocuses in the garden now,  chalices of light, and a few bees loud around them. Chives are coming up, early daffodils are nearly out, and in the darkness I wake to every night, wondering about the fate of the earth, I hold these in my mind. There is so much I can’t do right now. But remembering the miracle of a perfect clump of crocuses, actually blooming underground, in cold soil, far from sunlight, reminds me to continue to try to find hope.

Olbios among earth-bound mortals is he who has seen these things.

Olbios means blessed but it implies also fortune, not necessarily wealth, but a sense of happiness from doing the best you’re able to do under the circumstances. I’m seeing it right now as a call to goodness. Hopeful goodness. I think of Demeter, distraught at the loss of her daughter, raging across the earth, and coming to terms with the knowledge that for a brief period each year, her daughter will return. Return as growth, as new life, as possibility, even though those things might seem impossible in the dark night, the cold.

10 thoughts on ““then it is that you must come up from the misty realms of darkness””

  1. Oh, I needed this boost Theresa. Thank you as always. The past couple of days have seen several inches of fresh snow rounding and whitening everything and snuffing any thoughts of spring. I try to remember it all may become sloughs which we and the waterbirds desperately need. Dare I hope for runoff . . . but not too much and too quickly. A scientist once told me the landscape in our part of the prairies is known as ‘knob and kettle’ the way the glaciation left things. I love the idea of kettles refilling.

  2. What a lovely post Theresa. I have been thinking a lot of climate change as I watch my hostas poking through! Our frog chorus has just started at our island home – a few days later than usual and I have worried that one day they may disappear. On a totally different note, we are moving to our island home full time in the near future and I am just starting to plan our garden. I have been told to build it on the septic field which gets southern exposure until mid-afternoon – but I have also been told to avoid the septic field. Your advice?

    1. It was sort of common when we first lived here for people to build gardens over the septic field and to be honest, it’s kept me very attuned to what we put down our drains. Have always tried to find the least toxic soaps and cleaning supplies. Our actual boxes are over the areas between the lines (perforated pipes) with the paths over the lines. (Seeing it rebuilt gave us a good idea of where those lines were and how to keep them clear.) I have friends who use their own urine, etc. in their composting so I guess we are the more timid version of this! I can’t offer advice but only my experience. Having said all that, the roses by the actual distribution box are HUGE. Maybe they would have been anyway but let’s say they’re well fertilized.

  3. We have a flower bed on our Septic bed and it always does better than the ones elsewhere. A beautiful big tree nearby also does well but I fear it’s roots may cause problems. I am still in Chile where climate change is causing a prolonged drought that is spoiling roses. People are told not to water gardens during the day when sun up as a lot of water just gets evaporated. More concern now about how much water is needed to grow avocados, some of which are exported to Canada. Amazing all these global links and responsibilities.

    1. I think water will be something we will have to take very seriously. (My older brother told me in great detail about his switch to oat milk from almond milk because of water requirements for the later. He is the most unlikely person to be drinking oat milk…) We have two big tanks for run-off from the roof and I use them for watering the decks. (I grow tomatoes on an upper deck as well as pots of roses and so on.) We have a deep well and so far — fingers crossed — we haven’t had problems but who knows about the future. Last summer was so dry and hot and apparently more of that is to come. Enjoy avocados while you can!

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