Anyone who has lost themselves to a daydream on a sparkling afternoon in a garden knows intuitively that time ebbs and flows. We ‘lose track of time’ while raking dry crunchy leaves or snipping old hydrangea blooms. And we see it stretch as we sip tea and marvel at the colors of our roses or the dance of the clouds. Gardens tell us the time — daily time, seasonal time and yearly time — by unfurling leaves and bursting buds, by nascent seed pods and light frost on glistening leaves. This is ‘Nature’s time’, a quiet spiraling of experience that envelops us wholly. What a contrast to its counterpart, our human mechanical time!
Human time hangs heavily around our neck, like an unbreakable locket. It is run by the clock and calendar. It divides our days into hours, minutes, seconds, milliseconds. It is “as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth…unyielding, predetermined…” (Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams, p.23). Mechanical time puts constant pressure on our lives, superseding all else, and forcing us to forget what really matters. It is as, Meister Eckhart, the 14th century Christian mystic, said, an obstacle in our lives,
“Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time: and not only time but temporalities, not only temporal things but temporal affections, not only temporal affections but the very taint and smell of time.”
Nature’s time, on the other hand, ‘makes up its mind as it goes along.’ (Lightman, p 23). It is the smooth and rhythmic unfolding of a flower; the torrent rush of rain in a summer squall; the slow exhale of a deep breath. Nature’s time is as eternal as a granite boulder and as fleeting as a snowflake on a sunny winter day. It needs no device to measure it… the sun’s rays and the moon’s waxing and waning are its dutiful keepers.
I believe a garden helps us celebrate Nature’s time more fully. As Einstein explained, our “place” in the cosmos is not so much a physical site as it is a time frame. Our reality therefore is a blend of space and time. So I guess the best way to understand Nature’s time is as Ram Dass said, ‘Be Here Now’.
And gardens help us do that, in a quiet but glorious way.
Bio continued: Ms. Johnsen was named 2003 Instructor of the Year by the New York Botanical Garden. She has also received an AICP achievement award and a Progressive Architecture (PA) award for rooftop greenhouses in NYC. Jan has several books to her credit – her book, Ortho’s All About Trees, is published by Meredith Publishing. She is an engaging speaker and gives talks and workshops throughout the U.S. on the true healing power in plants and places.