Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pumpkin Magic

This fall I decided to deploy an extra weapon in my fight against the seasonal blues: witchcraft. One carved pumpkin to represent the state of mind I am trying to banish and a second pumpkin to represent the feeling I am seeking to achieve. One angry pumpkin, one happy pumpkin.

I sketched the faces, and my husband and I spent a couple of enjoyable hours on a Saturday afternoon carving them. I felt particularly pleased with these pumpkins – not only was the exercise therapeutic, but we avoided the waste typically associated with pumpkin carving. We toasted the pumpkin seeds and made a delicious sweet-and-sour pumpkin concoction with the cutout flesh.

But nature always has the last laugh with the gardener. The happy pumpkin contracted a case of mold that blackened its eye, though it’s still smiling bravely through a collapsing smile. Meanwhile, the angry pumpkin remains in perfect health. So, as an American citizen, I am exercising my right to be inconsistent in my religious faith. I have withdrawn my belief in black magic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gardening in November

Dead leaves and pine needles coat the ground, but the hickories glow golden and I’m glad to see the sun after a few days of gloom. November is my least favorite month.

I’m usually tired of the garden by now, and there’s not much to look at anyway, aside from a pale purple carpet of eastern aromatic asters near a giant boulder. October’s slanting light is beautiful, but by November the days are short and thick clouds often block the sun. I have the gift – or curse – of sensitivity to light, and I feel the change of seasons as my outlook darkens and all I want to do is sleep. It’s a season of death and dormancy, and it seems ridiculous to hope, or even think of spring, before the leaves have finished falling from the trees.

Yet I count on gardening for a sense of renewal, so I was glad it was my day to volunteer at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. We raked paths, pulled bittersweet and honeysuckle, picked up sticks. Inexplicable that these tasks could be so satisfying. But the sun was warm and I find it impossible to brood when gardening.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advises seekers of mindfulness to devote full attention to what you’re doing, no matter how mundane. When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes, he says. Easy to say and almost impossible to do, but I come closer in the garden than elsewhere. When you weed, weed. When you rake, rake.