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Me and My Basil

Since our summer conference is about the question, “What is Man?” I have had even more incentive to reflect on this ubiquitous question over the past year. It’s become the context not only for everything I write or think about, but even everything I do.

Take, for example, my garden.

My favorite time to live in North Carolina is, without doubt, March. Well do I remember that gloomy dead time growing up in Wisconsin, that month we were told “came in like a lamb, but went out like a lion.” March for a child had the potential to be fun, but only if it offered up a good snow storm or two. More likely, it was simply the hangings on of the annually long winter, a time for paper boys to be thoroughly sick of the cold and for farmers to anxiously wait for planting.

Charlotte fooled me into moving to North Carolina. I visited in the middle of February in 2000 and was stunned to see the pear trees in blossom on the boulevards of southern Charlotte. The pear trees have refused to blossom that early since tricking me into moving here, but I don’t think the pear trees were in blossom in a Wisconsin-February, ever, before the current ice age, which I believe started about 10,000 years ago.

But today is April 9th, and I am pleased to say that I was able to plant my cold weather plants all of three weeks ago. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Swiss chard (something I’ve neither grown nor eaten before this year), and buttercrunch lettuce are thriving (four of each – I’m a very small time farmer!). Among the herbs, the mint and cilantro made it through the winter on their own and were joined by a new planting of rosemary around the time I planted the cabbage plants.

And then there’s my basil.

Basil plant leaves.

Image via Wikipedia

In my defense I must insist that my objective in gardening so far has been to learn about gardening so that later on I can have a flourishing and fruitful garden, so at least my impact was minimal. But there remains, after all, my basil. Or rather, it would remain if I had cared for it properly.

It all started during February or maybe even January when Karen put a basil seedling on the kitchen window sill and we watched it grow, which is much more entertaining and interesting than people acknowledge. By the ides of March, it was ready for transplanting, so I waited another week or so and moved it outside on the 26th.

It thanked me for the additional room and the friability of the soil (I had to throw that word in here somehow) by, well, by drooping for the next two days. Then came Monday.

And what a Monday it was. I should have known. In fact, I did know. I should have acted. What I knew that I should have acted on was that it was going to be cold that fateful night. 34 degrees in Charlotte for a low, said the ominous on-line oracle, the Observer.

But I was smug and slothful, sure that I and MY garden could rise above the laws of nature, and neglecting the three minute duty of placing a frost net (which I had purchased for this very purpose only days before the event) over my basil.

Who knows what pains it endured that night, what groanings my little garden portion of the creation cried, what creaks, what whimpers. By morning it had veiled itself in black, accepting its own inevitable demise.

I, of course, as is my custom, realized after the fact my sin of neglect and sloth. Now, facing the fruit – that is to say, the fruitlessness – of my labors I was tempted by the sin of despair and the folly it produces. A lust for power overcame me and I began to speak idly, to myself in this case, of how I would save my basil.

I trimmed the blackened mourning leaves. I watered with my tears (metaphorically, you understand). I added soil. But it was too late. My basil was dead, and I had killed it. I was a murderer.

I, the tender of the garden, had failed in my duty to make my portion of the creation fruitful and to replenish the earth and to subdue it. I had caused the creation to groan, when I should have been leading it in patient, contemplative chorus of “Alleluias!”

Now I have to make an even bigger decision. Shall I submit to faint-heartedness and embrace the suburban life-style of American Idol and The Office, or shall I renew my efforts to exercise the Dominion of Blessing that is my charge.

I do like the demandlessness of the television.

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