Wearing Woodchucks

The new diamond I’m wearing is a woodchuck. 

Wait, let me explain!

Last weekend we planted beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomato seedlings, and small starts of kale, zinnias, and nasturtium I’d started in pots from seed. 

It took a woodchuck one day to discover the place under the fence he/she could easily dig. The kale was devoured and this woodchuck had a fetish for something under the tomato plants, digging vigorous holes.

I was bummed.  First, we’d built an 8-foot high fence to keep out urban deer.  Then I learned to protect snow peas with mesh to prevent birds from plucking them to pieces.  There’s not much to do about the energetic squirrels. And now I’ve got to figure out how to outsmart woodchucks.

Part of me feels sorry for myself when snags happen.  I think about quitting, not sure all this gardening effort is worth it. And yet, and yet, we’re already eating sweet new lettuce and the promise of tender beans and plump tomatoes, grown here instead of a farmer’s field, compels me to stay with gardening, woodchucks and all.

Life is like this – we chug along, living our lives.  Then it rains too hard, or not enough, or a woodchuck lays waste to the tomatoes and we have to decide – is this worth it?  And every time, if want to keep moving along life’s path and live a wholehearted life, we have to say yes. 

My spouse reminds me when I’m complaining vigorously, that challenges are diamonds.  He gets this from Charlotte Joko Beck who wrote “Nothing Special, Living Zen.” 

“The path of life seems to be mostly difficulties, things that give trouble. Yet the longer we practice, the more we begin to understand that those sharp rocks on the road are in fact like precious jewels; they help us to prepare the proper conditions for our lives. […] There are sharp rocks everywhere. What changes from years of practice is coming to know something you didn’t know before: that there are no sharp rocks – the road is covered with diamonds.

[…] Increasingly, problems do not rule out practice, but support it. Instead of finding that practice is too difficult, that we have too many problems, we see that the problems themselves are the jewels, and we devote ourselves to being with them in a way we never dreamt of before. […] It’s not that problems disappear or that life “improves”, but that life slowly transforms – and the sharp rocks that we hated become welcome jewels. We may not delight to see them when they appear, but we appreciate the opportunity that they give, and so we embrace them rather than running away from them. This is the end of complaints about our life. Even that difficult person, the one who criticizes you, the one who doesn’t respect your opinion, or whatever – everybody has somebody or something, some sharp rock. Such a rock is precious; it is an opportunity, a jewel to embrace.” *

While Joko Beck is writing of a meditation practice, her words can be enlarged for anyone serious about following a path of growth.

I know a woodchuck ruining the garden is a trivial example of a dilemma life deals us. Illness, injury, a colleague that drives us crazy, loss, divorce, death or a painful family drama that keeps repeating are true life challenges. Unexpected, painful things are happening, have happened, will happen to every human. 

Our knee-jerk reaction is to push those things away, run from them, distract ourselves from them, criticize ourselves (or others) for the way they affect us, etc.

And still, if we are to grow, our work involves turning and meeting life – whatever it brings –  being with it and allowing it to teach us strength, courage, resilience, a sense of humor, and increased appreciation for the journey itself, strewn with all those lovely woodchucks….I mean diamonds!

So, out goes the trap, hoping I can outsmart wily woodchuck. And keeping a vigilant watch over the growing garden.   And hoping still for tender beans and crisp cucumbers.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, June 2018

* Joko, Beck Charlotte. Nothing Special:  Living Zen. New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1993