Friday, February 06, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/5/09)

A conversation with Pat Pedersen, a self-avowed mishmash gardener, brings to mind Proverbs 17:22, "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones." Pat is a good medicine, especially for those with dried up bones. She embraces life amidst all of its chaos.

She loves color, bright colors. She plants, hangs, and pots all kinds of plants that bring color into her life, resulting in a house and yard that appear a mishmash, a chaos.

Her love of color may be rooted in her father's automobile accident.
A marine veteran of Midway during World War II, he was struck down in his prime by an automobile driven by teenagers. Crippled, he lost much of his sensory awareness, depriving him of that verve so closely tied to smell, touch, taste, hearing, and sight, isolating him in a chasm of sensory oblivion and despair.

Thrust overnight into a private wilderness, in her childhood Pat became her father's caretaker. Amidst that chaos, that void, and perhaps because of it, she grew aware of her senses, particularly sight, loving colors, especially bright colors. Not only that, she came to treasure them.

Many gardeners like order, everything in its place, a place for everything, neat and tidy. Others favor systems, organizations in which everything has a function, using words like "communities" and that particularly dreadful word "interfaces."

Mishmash gardening may appear willy-nilly, even hurly-burly, with no sense at all. Not so, its meaning is elsewhere.

In his book Chaos, James Gleick writes about the first theorists of the new science of chaos, "They had an eye for pattern." "They had a taste for randomness and complexity, for jagged edges and sudden leaps." This could well be a description of Pat's garden, a garden of brightening surprises, of unpredictable delights, of beauty over classification. For those addicted to order and organization, it may offend, but beyond the offense there is a pattern of vivacity, a love of life, not merely predicable and expected, but "surprised by joy."

Chaos is a Greek word, not meaning disorder, but rather primal emptiness, a chasm, a void, an ultimate yawn. As such, it was the opposite of an orderly universe. The poet Wallace Stevens wrote, "The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind." The French existentialist Albert Camus picked up the theme and extended its consequences into Absurdité which best describes the anti-meaning of her father's tragedy.

The rational and the orderly are human attempts to fix meaning on the unpredictable and the absurd, an urban grid on a random wilderness. Those attempts aren't the reality. Life is not tidy, nor is Pat's garden. She's filled her corner of that primal emptiness with color, with peonies, dahlias, and begonias. That's been her pattern, ever since the chaos of her father's tragedy. For those who look for straight lines and perfect curves, her garden is "randomness and complexity," "jagged edges and sudden leaps" filled with color.

She says that Martha Stewart would call her garden a "bad thing," but rather than listening to Martha Stewart, she hears Frank Sinatra sing, "I did it my way." The secret to her patterns are, in her words, "Plant what you love." Her love of color even reaches to her "passion for purple potatoes."

She hopes "for her garden to become totally coherent," and as she waits, she dances with her pots and hanging baskets, looking for coherence in a world "without form and void." In other words, the pattern to her garden is a dance of color, not idée fixe but danse de joie.

Alfred North Whitehead wrote in Science and the Modern World that religion is "something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest." So with gardening. Meanwhile, out on the edge of the wilderness in Mountainaire with her great Pyrenees, Mr. T. and Poofy B., and her companion, Tom, Pat's dances the dance of faith with her pots and planters amidst the chaos, much like Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God in a 17th century monastic kitchen with his pots and pans. As faith and hope abide, she believes, "gardening is about love."

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

1 comment:

Jan Busco said...

Thanks, Dana - A beautiful piece on about one of my favorite Flagstaffians. Jan