The dog days of summer are pure bliss in my garden. No matter how lousy a gardener I have been that season, there comes a point when everything seems to bloom. I wade into the lushness of tomato plants that tickle my waist, step gingerly over the massive cucumber leaves that have grown big enough to protect their fruit from the harsh summer rays, and stoop to inspect many varieties of peppers that are growing vigorously.
One day, I came home from work, stepped out of my car, and headed straight for the garden, only to be faced with the horror that every sunny-day gardener has encountered at one time or another. There before me lay the decimation of my efforts. Every lettuce head was gone, gnawed right to the ground. Several peppers lay half-eaten, and at least five of my largest, juiciest tomatoes hung mortally wounded, bleeding seeds and juice out of their once-firm torsos.
I don't think there is a more maddening, hopeless, helpless feeling. Much of my summer toil was devastated in one short day by some nameless, faceless marauder who had sauntered into my backyard for an afternoon morsel.
The next day, the fence went up. Installed 2 feet underground and 3 ½ feet above, my new fence was my statement to the animal kingdom that I intended to protect my assets. That seemed to take care of the lettuce-eaters but I was still coming home to tomatoes that were partially eaten and damaged beyond salvation.
More frustrated than ever, I stood sentry by my window, awaiting the arrival of my enemy. Soon enough, along came a group of neighborhood crows, eyeing my tomatoes like some sinister gang that wouldn't take no for an answer. Of course, I flew out my door in a rage that sent them scattering in every direction. That was when I got the scarecrow, the mesh netting, and the bright yellow, one-eyed balloon that claimed to be the solution to my bird problem.
This is an addicted society, and many times we become prey to the beasts that inhabit our psyches. As a drug category, antidepressants rank number three of all prescriptions written; $2.9 billion is spent on them annually in this country. That means there are a lot of us who struggle with our internal darkness. I watched my father, a brilliant and passionate man with a zest for life, destroyed by alcohol and barbiturates. Like so many of us, he faced a huge internal void, brought on by self-doubt and lack of self-esteem, which he tried desperately to fill.
Maybe I'm being too simplistic but I don't think he ever realized that by encapsulating himself in the love that was so readily available to him, he could have constructed a fortress around himself, allowing him to salvage his physical and mental health. It seemed so ironic that he invested so much in his own education and growth, but he allowed these predators to deplete him of his rich assets.
Maybe my experience with my father is what set me up to fall in love with men for their "potential." I can't help but shake my head at the literal loss of spirit and life that I have seen when people I love can't seem to eliminate the freeloaders from their lives. As kind and gentle and intelligent as they may be, their efforts at cultivating their characters are lost to the ravenous appetite of their dependencies.
The Bible says that we were turned out from the Garden of Eden when we lost our innocence. I believe that the loss of innocence that happens so early in our lives, the loss of ecstasy, is what we try so desperately to replace. When we lose the childlike ability to shriek with unrestrained laughter or learn to feel self-conscious about how we appear, it is because our egos and vulnerability have moved in where pure observation and naivete once lived. This loss of innocence leaves us exposed and defenseless (remember how Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness) and sets up the paradox of forces within us that we will grapple with throughout our lives.
I like to think if we can fortify our children with a strong enough sense of themselves and a good dose of unconditional love, they will construct their own defenses when toxins threaten their life force. Meanwhile, it's up to us as individuals to maintain and build the self-esteem and self-love that keep us safe from the toxic stuff that surrounds us each day.