Wednesday, 24 September 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: The consolations of digging

Dsc_2591By Emma Townshend

The "Love & Sex"supplement in the paper today is about heartbreak, a subject we've almost all managed to make the acquaintance of over the years. Nonetheless, our shared breadth of experience doesn't always guarantee we will all be perfectly in tune when it comes to heartbreak: other, non-heartbroken, people seem to have amazingly short memories about how much it actually hurts. 

When you finally come to have your grand moment of total romantic meltdown, what happens in practice is that everybody pitches in with their version of helpful advice which bears no relation to the agonising pain you are experiencing. "More fish in the sea" is a line you can definitely hear too many times, no matter what novel version of it your grandma thinks up. Ditto: "you were too good for him" and that satisfying old corker: "well, I never really liked him".

What you need at this point in time are endorphins, and lots of them. Going for a run is an obvious solution, but let me here make my own personal case for digging. Digging is great for several reasons. It will make you sweat, like running, but it will also let you see visible results, like repainting a hallway. It also has some shared qualities with one of The Independent's recommended break-up activities, clearing your clutter. Taking a patch of weedy ground and leaving it clear, fertile and ready to plant, is enormously satisfying for practical reasons alone.

But there's a deeper level of explanation as to why gardening works as
a break-up cure. We are agricultural animals, and digging and raking
take us out of ourselves and connect us with the natural world, with
the outdoors, and with a sense of process and time that we can lose
when our lives are disrupted by personal heartache. It's no surprise
that some of the keenest gardeners are those who are coping with the
heartbreak of loss and grief: dealing with divorce, mourning a beloved
partner, coming to terms with a bad diagnosis. Books like Carl Krauss's Letters to Kate
tell the story of how gardening helps a thoughtful writer through the
tragedy of his wife's sudden death; the much more English, darkly funny
Allotted Time
by Robin Shelton, is a tale of a man who finds a good solution to
depression and marital breakup in tilling the soil and general spade

Looking at the brown paper bags of new bulbs sitting in my hallway
waiting to be planted, though, I'm reminded that it's not just the
romantically miserable who need the consolations of the garden. By
early January, I will be craving the cheery sight of bulbs breaking the
surface of the soil. The most important lesson though is that we can
all do with a bit of a restorative dig - we don't need to wait for our
hearts to be broken.

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