Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Zen Gardener

Marin County, California, USA

September 29, 2008

This essay, Zen Gardener, is the companion piece to Zen Garden.

It is also the fourth in a quintology inspired by Dorothy:
  1. The Heart Of Werner's Work
  2. Dorothy, I Have A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore
  3. Interesting Interested Lady
  4. Zen Gardener
  5. God Is In His Heaven And Everything Is Right With The World
in that order.

My friend's housekeeper occasionally cleans house for her. If her housekeeper is there when I visit, and the house is in the orderly disorderly  array of being cleaned, then we meet out in her garden. It's an immaculate garden, well manicured, tended with meticulous  loving care, terraced into the sloping land behind her house, each terrace held in place with stout redwood beams. Her garden has roses, tomatoes, limes, and various other citrus  trees which do well in this climate. Porous pots and wind chimes provide simple yet tasteful adornments and ornamentation. There's a group of clay ducklings poised in mid-stride over some ivy. There's outdoor chairs placed just so, here and there, to afford what a garden's best at affording: just being here, and enjoying  just being here.

When I arrive, I see the housekeeper through the screen door. She's standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. So, without knocking, I proceed around the back out into the garden.

The garden is peaceful, immaculate as usual. It's also empty. There's no one here. Assuming my friend is inside the house, I wait for her to come out, enjoying the rich earth soil and citrus aromas. Five minutes pass. No one comes out of the house. I stay where I am, standing alone, enjoying the empty garden, enjoying the emptiness  ...

Then I notice a leaf moving on one of the bushes on a terrace. Only one leaf. At first I assume it's just a languid breeze. The entire garden is still, yet one leaf is moving on one bush on one of the terraces. Granted I'm a bit slow on the uptake, but soon enough I realize if it's a breeze, the entire bush and other bushes around it would also be moving. Squinting slightly at the bush trying to figure out this anomaly, I think to myself "Curiouser and curiouser ..."  (as Alice in Wonderland may have said). I walk closer to get a better view of the solitary moving leaf, and that's when I see her, crouched down behind the bush, totally hidden from my view by it. She's working the ground around a lime tree behind the bush, and the way her body folds itself, part kneeling, part crouching, gets her completely screened from my view by the bush. Her elbow, moving as she works, bumps the bush ever so slightly, just enough to shake one solitary leaf.

She's wearing old clothes appropriate for gardening, a floppy white sun hat on her head, and thick, well worn gloves to protect her hands. Down on one knee, she's attending to the lime tree. I triangulate  myself and my line of sight with the foliage so I can see her behind the bush which has almost perfectly hidden her ninety nine something  year old body from view.

I call out to her but she doesn't hear me. So instead I stand here, fascinated, watching her as she works. She's tilling the soil around the lime tree with a trowel and a gardening fork. She's putting everything she's got, all of the strength in her frail frame, into it - jab the soil, turn it around, jab the soil, turn it around. Every so often she picks up lumps of soil and stones, brings them up to her eyes to get a clearer view and to distinguish the one from the other, then she crumbles the soil lumps and replaces the loose soil around the tree, and discards the stones into a bucket.

The scene, the setting, is pure Zen. I'm in observation mode. I'm watching a master at work, a master gardener, and I know it. I know it's a privilege to be here and observe.

She breathes audibly with each exertion. Soon all the ground around the bush is aerated, then she sprinkles some fertilizer over it and works it in with her fingers. Then she gathers up all the loose leaves and other waste material and puts it in the bucket. There's nothing out of place when she's done. She rakes the ground under the lime tree with a hand size garden fork. The lines she leaves in the dirt under the lime tree are etched like charcoal meandered  by a fine artist onto a thick Bristol  card stock drawing.

Finally she stands up. That's when, for the first time, she sees me standing here, smiles, waves, and greets me. I applaud, clapping like mad, calling out "Bravo! Bravo!"  again and again, entirely appropriately having just watched a riveting command performance, a Rhapsody in a Zen Garden  (as George Gershwin may have said).

I offer her my hand for support as she comes down the steps from the slope. She doesn't need my support but she takes my hand anyway. We sit on a redwood beam, talking. She speaks about someone calling her to tell her she's worried about the state of the economy. Her response was "What good does worrying do you? Does worrying ever change anything? I never worry. It's OK the way it is.". We speak about children, about one of mine who recently started classes at UC Santa Barbara, about one of hers who recently started transformation on Planet Earth. It's that  normal with her. It's that  easy with her. It's no accident, when the truth is told, that she's the Mother of Transformation. Really!

It's time to go. I hug her - gently. She turns and kisses my cheek. I tell her I love her. She replies "I know you do, and I love you too.".

I turn around one more time for one last look at her through the screen door. She's still wearing the floppy white sun hat on her head, watching the evening news on a counter top television set. The house is immaculate. The garden is immaculate. An evening breeze rustles the leaves of the lime tree, wafting the clean smell of citrus everywhere.

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