“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
In early January I was planting the last of the daffodil bulbs, digging into the cold, not quite frozen earth, when my spade nearly sliced into a hibernating Woodhouse toad. I held the toad’s cold, stony body in my hands to try to detect a heartbeat. He looked vulnerable and yet peaceful. I immediately tucked him in to rest beneath the daffodils until spring. It has been quiet without the toads. Last summer they were a constant presence. They fed on the spiders, ants and insect larvae and hunted moths by our front stoop at night. In the heat of the day I would find them snoozing in the plant nursery, nestled with the succulents. I noticed the good work they were doing as I did my part to grow cut flowers and get them into people’s hands before they perished. Finding the hibernating toad reminded me that winter is a time to rest.
Our desert winter in Rimrock appears to be over and sooner than I would have liked. It felt like hitting the snooze button on your alarm, not like a long night’s sleep. The apricot trees are blooming, much to the delight of the bees, along with the pre-chilled tulips who were tricked into believing they had already experienced seven weeks of winter. The peonies are reaching their reddish fingers out of the ground and the robins are yanking worms from the new field. Just the other day I was preparing a garden bed and encountered a toad hunkered into the fluffy soil, wakeful and blinking. We are beginning again. It is time to climb out of our respective caves and replace our jammies with work clothes.
Spring is the official reset button on the farm season. Yet I’ve been wondering; what would it be like if we could begin again any time of year, from moment to moment? In a recent online retreat with Flagstaff Insight Meditation Community, I practiced beginning again with what brings ease and pleasure. For me, it was watching the chickadees and cedar waxwings try to share the birdbath. I slowed down and noticed the small wonders in my immediate grasp that can easily be overlooked as I blaze by on my way to the next task.
During a meditation, I find myself scheming, planning and generating ideas for Wild Heart Farm. It is my default setting to start dreaming up the plants I want to grow and what I will create with them. When I begin again, there is no remorse about these thoughts interfering with meditation. I simply note, planning, or dreaming, then go back to my breath.
As a farmer, you begin again every season. Mother Nature’s cycle is an unending circle of life. Everything dies, and you try to let go of your mistakes, the failures, the unmade progress, and start again. Last year at this time I was beginning for the first time on new land in Rimrock. I was in the midst of major life change turmoil—moving to a new place while still commuting to a beloved gardening job in Oak Creek Canyon. I was trying to summon the courage make the leap across the precipice to self-employed farm owner. I had no solid plan for how I was going to make a living selling flowers. Then the pandemic forced our economy into a screaming halt and canceled all the weddings I had scheduled. I had planned an entire season for the Oak Creek garden, and had to begin again from scratch in Rimrock. I had to buy all of my supplies, set up a greenhouse and get growing! To say I was frightened and overwhelmed is an understatement. I listened to flower podcasts for inspiration, and all I did was compare myself and feel worse.
I embraced the pandemic shutdown as a sign from the universe that I needed to root down and to learn how to grow in this place. Beginning again, I let go of the harsh, judging voice inside of me. I dropped the fear of failure I was carrying like extra baggage, and let go of my blooming garden in Oak Creek Canyon. The blank slate in farming is the bare bed; the soft, fluffy soil waiting to nurture new life. No weeds, no tangles of plants needing support, no aphid damage.
During the weekend meditation, I kept returning to the present moment for as long as I could before my mind carted me off to another land of make believe. I afforded myself a slower pace, and savored being awake as I completed tasks. I replaced the inner hustler with the encouraging voice of my meditation teacher, asking us to notice what happens when we invite ease. It turns out ease feels good! The dominant culture, and production flower growing does not allow for ease. It encourages us to move faster, plant more, take on more and it is rooted in fear and lack. I constantly compare my flowers to the pristine images on social media, and against the cheap, perfect roses at the grocery store. I now recognize this pattern arises from deep roots of the colonial mentality that our capitalist economy grows from.
This winter I went inside myself like the toad, dreaming beneath the daffodils. I softened a little, resolving to begin the season and each moment with ease and kindness toward myself. When I am overwhelmed by the mess of my potting shed, the unfilled irrigation trenches and the carpets of weeds germinating, I stop myself. I take a moment of gratitude that I am an earth tender, a partner in nature’s cycles. The imprint of last season’s lessons are planted in my body and the failures will bloom into new ways of seeing a problem. I will balance tasks that bring strife with those that invite ease. When I pass the delicate blossom of another anemone flower, so subtly unlike the last, I will stop and take it in its essence. I, too, can weather the harsh conditions of this world and grow the beauty that we need to nourish our souls.
Kate Watters is a farmer, floral designer, writer and musician. She has led a colorful plant-centered life from various angles and now makes her livelihood from a farm oasis in Rimrock, next to Beaver Creek. She grows flowers, medicinal herbs, pollinator and fairy habitat and hosts plant gatherings. To follow her entrepreneurial and artistic adventures arising from the soil visit: www.agavemariabotanicals.com and www.katewattersart.com