The Janus Thresholds

The author and his daughters Clover and RuAnne plant flower bulbs in October 2021.

We begin our morning task by cutting open bags of tulips, chrysanthemums and daffodils, and pouring the contents into a garden bucket. My daughters, who are 6 and 2, mix the bulbs together so they’ll be planted in random order, so that next spring the flowers will bloom in a mixed community of color. It’s October, and the chill of the morning air overpowers the warmth of the morning sun.

I kneel down on a pad and dig a small hole with my gardening trowel. I select a bulb from the bucket, push it – point down – into the damp, receiving soil and cover it. My oldest daughter watches how I do it, then she kneels down beside me and uses her trowel to dig her own hole. When she’s done, she drops a bulb into the hole.

“You have to do a little more than just drop it in,” I coach her. I show her the point tip of a bulb. “The pointy part needs to point down when you plant it. That will help it grow better.”

She retrieves the bulb from the hole, turns it point down, pushes it into the bottom of the hole and covers it up.

“Just like that!” I say, and she smiles.

Roo and I progress down the garden, planting bulbs in a strip of dirt between the lawn and the fence. My 2-year-old daughter acts as the helper/roamer. She picks four marigolds which are growing in another part of the garden, and gives one to me, one to her sister and one to mommy, and keeps one for herself. A few minutes later she plucks four cherry tomatoes off the vine. She eats one, then revisits the rest of us, feeding each of us a tomato. When she feeds me the tomato, I can smell the sharp, wonderful scent of the marigold petals crushed on her fingers. Such a pure gesture of sharing and love. A gardener’s year is filled with many such lovely sacraments.

My 2-year-old, Clover, also enjoys the job of selecting a bulb from the bucket and bringing it to me. She enjoys watching me push the bulb she has chosen into the soil.

Throughout the years, various knick-knacks and curios have found a home in our garden. There are a few heart-shaped rocks we’ve found while hiking in the desert, some river rocks and some glass baubles – the sort you find in the bottom of an aquarium. Clover collects a few of these items and drops them into the hole with the bulb. One bulb is joined by a seashell, another by a heart-shaped rock, another by a polished river rock she painted purple last summer. But she likes the pretty purple rock too much to part with it and pulls it back out of the hole. 

I want my daughters to know gratitude, the value of hard work and the power of hope (and how to help it along). Part of my and my wife’s motivation for creating our meditation garden was so we’d have a space where we could teach/demonstrate/nurture those ideas with our daughters. Perhaps it’s worth noting that our garden is not a full-fledged garden. It’s a rather small meditation garden – only 9 feet wide and 43 feet long – but I believe it’s still big enough to learn many of gardening’s and farming’s most valuable lessons. Any gardener or farmer will tell you that many of life’s greatest values and lessons are learned firsthand from gardening and farming. Faith, nurturing, hard work and the fine discipline of failing and trying again. And, of course, patience. As a farmer or gardener, you get to witness first-hand the cycle of life and play a role in its success. And when all the hard work is finished, you get to literally enjoy the fruits of your labors.

My daughters come from a long line of farmers and gardeners. Their grandpa Law (my father) was a lifelong farmer in Utah. Their father (me) was a farmer until I moved away from home after graduating from high school, and their grandma Law is a lifelong master gardener. Their grandpa Crane grew up on a farm. Their grandma Crane grew up on a ranch. Dirt is in our daughters’ DNA. 

About an hour later, Roo and I reach the end of the garden and plant the last bulb. I stand, stretch my back and thank Roo and Clover for their help. 

Another great lesson gardeners can teach their kids is the value of deferred gratification, a very valuable life skill to learn – and I try to explain this to my daughters in a simple way.

“We put in a couple hours of good work today. We’ll have to wait a few months, till next March, but then we’ll enjoy several weeks of enjoyment from these flowers next spring when they bloom,” I tell Roo and Clover. “Just like when we planted the tomatoes last spring: It was a while before we enjoyed the tomatoes that grew on them.”

My 6-year-old nods. I think she understands what I’m getting at.

January is the month named for Janus, the Roman god with two faces. One of his faces looks into the future, while the other face looks into the past. But, as any gardener or farmer can tell you, the double-faced month would have been better placed in spring or autumn. In autumn, the gardener brings in her harvest and looks back on the summer’s toil and sweat with gratitude and thanksgiving, while at the same time she plants her tulip bulbs, stores away her seeds and looks forward to a spring day when her tulips will sprout, when she’ll once again plant her seeds. And spring, of course, are the months of buds and blossoms, green sprigs, renewed hope and energy. In the row of peas, the gardener observes the first triumphant little green fists pushed up through the damp, warm soil.  So brave, yet unsure. As vulnerable as a promise. Perhaps no being shows us the promise of spring so well as does the delicate sprig of the pea vine first emerging from the soil.

I call these days in spring and autumn the Janus Thresholds: days when I look back with gratitude at the harvest taken in, while simultaneously planting something new and looking forward to the day when it grows.

Earlier in the summer, while meditating in the meditation garden, I had another thought. 

I am also poised at an inter-generational threshold: a time in my life when I look back at the lessons taught to me from my mother the gardener and my father the farmer, while at the same time I’m in the process of teaching my inquisitive daughters the lessons of gardening and farming with the hope that through the years we work together in planting (and planning and hoping), and harvesting (and giving thanks and storing away), and doing the work of watering, weeding and nurturing along the way, and I can’t help imagining a day when my adult daughters will plant their own gardens. And pass on the lessons I teach them today to their own sons and daughters. 

And therein lies the gardener’s greatest lesson: whether its flowers, tomatoes, cherry trees or daughters, doing the all-important, down-in-the-dirt work of nurturing the next generation.

As much as gardeners and farmers can’t help looking back at the previous season with gratitude and looking to the next season with hope, it’s also important to stand in the moment and be mindful of the beauties and many graces it holds. So, I stand in my garden. I pause and take in the wonderful scene, the precious morning around me. And there is Roo, standing much the way I am, with hands on her hips looking back – with appreciation, I believe – at the good work she helped me accomplish. And there’s Clover dodging about the garden, humming as happy as a bee in honeysuckle. And there’s my beautiful wife, standing on the deck sipping coffee and drinking in the lovely scene before her.

And there’s verbena’s subtle, nearly-not-there smell on a subtle, nearly-not-there breeze that brushes across our faces soft as the hem of a satin dress whispers across a marble floor.

Though no Ipomoea, no Convolvulaceae, of any kind grow in our little meditation garden, morning glory still abounds.

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