I took advantage of the wonderful spring weather this past weekend to get my yard and garden back in shape for a new growing season. I cleared out the fall and winter accumulation of fallen leaves and other detritus and gave my lawn its first mowing of the year. As I got the garden ready for another planting season, I was thrilled to see that there were already good clumps of parsley and chives already breaking ground, while the horseradish was sprouting a healthy crown of leaves.
Sadly, I also succumbed to the necessity of cutting down an adolescent apple tree that was was badly situated and caused a good chunk of my garden to be in the shadows during the summer growing season. That done, I started to lay out in my head where I would be planting my modest urban garden. I needed to shake things up a little, since last year, my garden yielded disappointing results, due largely I think to the aforementioned shade-causing apple tree, as well as less than adequate crop rotation practices. It may seem odd to be talking about crop rotation when my vegetable garden is only some two metres by eight metres in size, but Mother Nature makes no such distinctions.
I also cleaned out the flower garden in the front yard where a few tulips were already in bloom, and where I was pleased to see clusters of tiny purple flowers of the periwinkle (barvinok) I had transplanted last year from my mother-in-law’s garden to my own. There was no shortage of growth of various kinds sprouting from the newly warmed up soil, and I was faced with the difficult challenge of differentiating between desirable vegetation and predatory weeds. Regrettably, I am not an experienced or knowledgeable gardener, but I make up in enthusiasm what I lack in horticultural expertise.
Having been raised on a farm, I am more familiar than most of my urban peers with the transience of life in the natural world, and the annual cycle of renewal that each spring brings. As the earth brings forth new life, I am reinvigorated with new hope and optimism after a winter devoted essentially to survival of the cold and the darkness. Unquestionably, the changing of the seasons has a profound effect on us psychologically and emotionally.
This encouraging bursting out of new life is in sharp contrast to the fact that in the short space of just this past week, I experienced the passing of no fewer than four friends and acquaintances that I had known for many decades. Most of their deaths were sudden and unexpected, testifying to the reality that our time on this earth is as unpredictable as it is precious.
It brought home to me in a very direct way that I have now reached that stage in life where actuarial statistics are no longer an abstract notion, but that my days are now numbered. I am fortunate that my health and physical state are still surprisingly good. Nonetheless, I have also noticed that too much of the conversations I have with my peers these days seem to centre on their upcoming operations, physical ailments, chronic health problems, the efficacy of various prescription drugs, and the difficulty in staying healthy and in shape.
For much of our lives, we tend to be oblivious to the fact that both our lifespan and our physical health have their limitations. In our youth and early adulthood, we erroneously tend to believe we are invulnerable and tend to take our health for granted. It is only when we reach pension age and start noticing that our peers are dying around us, that we start to take our mortality seriously.
I have reached the ripe age of seventy-two, and it is only in the last few years that I have really come to understand that I need to look at the small amount of future I still have left from a different perspective and with a different set of priorities. My aims and ambitions at this age are no longer those I had when I was just setting out in life or even those I had in the prime of my life. Money, power, recognition, status and material acquisitions no longer have the attraction they once did. Increasingly, I am coming to appreciate the importance of friendship, family, enlightenment, creative fulfilment and contributing towards civilizational progress, as being the key determinants in having a happy and fulfilling life.
Life and death are concepts that we tend to avoid until reality dictates that we can no longer do so. It behooves us to be more proactive in dealing with this inevitable issue while we still have the time and ability to do so.