Merlin In The Garden
Part 2 of 2
Part of a tale by Stone
The garden spirits were certainly a hive as much as that, Merlin knew, for he could just as easily draw back and talk with them all together; he spoke with a mountain just as easily as with a rock or tree or worm that helped to make the mountain, or with a whole rolling weather front as easily as with its individual winds and vaporous clouds. But differences between the plants and insects flew immediately to mind: the garden's queen and king lived in much more unity than the queen bee and her wandering drones; land spirits are strongly rooted to their physical place while animal spirits are not. And a great difference for humans too: humans build such a perfect marriage as the bees sometimes but very seldom and Merlin himself, the representative human on the scene, had never been a committed part of any such.
So then he thought that he had strayed from the question of how things are alike onto how they are different. But no, he then immediately saw, in fact it was the opposite; he had tended longingly toward the unrewarding question of how things are alike even after he had definitely realised that the faeries wanted him to wonder how things are different. For Merlin a human it had always been a source of most attractive joy to see the endless subtle common nature of all things in the world, for this was a thought far different than his typical accustomed thoughts, a thought that conjured feelings of secure peace, a thought that seemed to be purely and deeply good because it always reassured his hope; and yet it was a thought which is evidently not important to hollyhocks and their kin. It occurred to him that bees must surely share his accustomed weariness of striving and his fear amid all the competitive killing and dying that is common to animal life. Too, the bees and humans both managed to struggle through all of that by reducing all the world's complexity to simple rules of life. All of that would seem to suggest that bees as well as humans experience a joy beyond their usual experience whenever they chance to realise that the myriad separate things around them really can be seen alike in fundamental ways. That is a lodestar of how most animals live. But none of that at all could be said of the garden. The garden lived by striving to fill every corner of its reach with a mass of living substance and that is a very different strategy than the beasts'. A garden did not yearn for peace because it never very much waged war; it only girded itself for a fight when some horde of pests descended and even then put up a weak defence. No, variety instead of unity was the great ideal for plants and that was why plants shaped their individual bodies so freely and cross-bred so strongly and mutated so fervently. Merlin wondered why he'd never come upon this thought before: plants are far more powerful than beasts. How many stands of forest had he seen that were all denuded by some host of marauding pests, and a whole season's food production lost, and yet the selfsame trees leafed again prolificly next year? Plants are far more powerful than beasts, with every cubic yard of their habitation place so much more full of powerfully nutritious stuff, and all of it done by a strategy of diversifying. The faeries of this particular garden place had rejoiced with dance and song one day when a healthy thistle seed blew into a spot where nothing else had thrived; and now in one corner of the chamber behind his eyes, the faeries held up some pictures of that celebration. (Merlin was very glad to see those little pictures and to feel the joy around them, for he and the garden today had managed very little direct mental communication; this sudden bit of contact made him feel that he was coming up at last close behind them on their trail of thoughts.) Well then, it must be a stunning transcendental vision for plants now and then when they realise that everything really can be changed by will. That was a lodestar of their life. For beings in the normal ways of human life that very same thought holds a perfidious evil attraction, stinking of corrupt self-destruction. Human philosophers do not generally say that the omnipotent power of will is definitely evil but rather that it is a fact too strong for human frailties, and the plants likewise know that the human ideal of cosmic unity is a basic fact even though it reeks of stagnation to them. So, the feelings of humans and plants are not precisely opposite but they are strikingly different and born of different ways of physical life. So now he understood their inquiry, and also understood why they had sought a human being an animal rather than a hill or star or season or deity with whom to converse upon it. One of his fondest ideals was bad in their eyes and one of their fondest bad to him.
So now he had this: How is it that everything constantly changes to something else? Is it because good and evil beyond our normal seeing are the same? Is that how all our destinies converge?
At last Merlin let the lids fall down over his physical eyes and sat there for long minutes basking in a penetrating light of pleasure. The bees by now were struggling in the warm sun too much to give him much attention but he felt the hollyhocks and the whole garden relax and smile together with him.
Now, as per their agreement, he must ponder that awhile and try to come back someday with a thoughtful reply. Surely the garden had gained some partial increase of wisdom from his thoughts so far, just as he had gained a bit from theirs, but in truth he had only just barely managed to grasp their main intent. How is it that everything constantly changes to something else? Is it because good and evil (beyond our normal seeing) are the same? Is that how all our destinies converge?
I can tell you that it took considerable effort for the lean brown man to stretch himself and slowly stand. He realised how warm he was in the sun but how cool his sweaty gown felt in the breeze.
He brought his gift over to the hollyhock bed it was simply a large watering can full of rich green algae-laden liquor from the rain barrel near his bedroom door and examined everything carefully close up while pouring out these two gallons of rich brew slowly through the can's long neck among all the plants within reach, poking his long spout here and there down low where they were very crowded.
He now saw there had been poppies this year in the foot-wide strip of ground between the hollyhocks and lawn. Only the dry grey curly flower stems of them were left by now, the bright orange petals and clump of leaves all gone, each stem standing up a foot high above the carpet of green thriving pennyleaf at their feet, each dry stem left alone to hold up its drying capsule of the tiny ripening dust-sized poppy seeds. The tough springy corkscrew stems (all that remained above earth of their race) swayed in unpredictable directions at his slightest touch. Very soon the seed capsules would dry so much as to pop their mouths agape; then their bouncing in the wind would sprinkle their magic powdered essence round about. After that, of course, the heart would be gone from the flower stems and under the next rain (or even the next watering can) their very bodies would dissolve enough to collapse and sink below.
These plants were surpassing beautiful to Merlin. Because he was the kind of thinker that he was, a spinning geometric symbol appeared in his mind's eye to try summing up his vision of the poppies. This geometric figure was the astronomer's symbol 'Earth': a circle with two lines crossing in it to show the cross-roads of the elements. This mystical glyph appeared to him superposed upon the top mouth end of one of the poppy pods but it didn't fit the little geometric circle figure which the pod had sculpted on its face. The thin puckered mouth of drying plant material made a circle figure with ten radii instead of the Earth figure's four and so the Earth figure spun and whirled upon it in his mind's eye. You may be sure, this piece of geometric vision (which you and I might find to be a little interesting) was full of splendid concentrated meaning for him. And he counted this vision as a gift back from the garden, as more than ample recompense for the can of thick green water he had lugged out there at dawn.
But then the water quit gushing from the end of the long spout. He was already holding it tipped down steep to drain every drop, so truly the can was empty. Merlin laughed out loud at his own shock and disappointment with this inevitable event and looked up at the great noontime sun and shook his head disparagingly at his own sudden change in spiritual size. What did the Sky care about his running out of water? Of course he was familiar with the thought that good and evil are the same if you can look beyond the manifest needs of life; he personally knew of beings in the universe who are so big that their immense lives are undisturbed by any struggle between dark and light. And he was familiar too with the notion that the struggle between good and evil is the motive force within all earthly life, though he had personally rejected that idea for being too simple. But the garden was proposing a different thought than those to him.
The garden faeries had mentioned Destiny in their question, had they not? Now, Destiny is a force that draws you toward it, different from Fate which carries you along. But so what? What good sense could he make of that? Destiny, Change, the relativity of Right; he doubted that he knew these subjects very well at all. He wondered how long it might take him to get back here to offer some relevant questions in reply. How old would he be by then? And would he ever live enough that he and they could find agreement on some answer? What were they looking for after all? How did this philosophical inquiry offer hope for resolution of the garden's conflict with the waters?
In the meanwhile these matters would brew in his mind, especially this matter of right and wrong. Oh yes, any spirit incarnated in this world (this hard earthly realm where all the elements combine) must constantly discern what is good and bad. That is a lodestar of life on Earth. But what is the truth inside that truth? Over the coming years these things would sometimes plague him and sometimes yield to his thirsty lips the sweetest kind of consolation. In human terms, it would be long indeed between his visits to that garden bench.
Friend, I can tell you a thing which Merlin did not ken until another visit later: the reason why the garden spirits had resolved to undertake that philosophical discussion.
Just the mere comprehension of such powerful questions by such patient beings brought an increase of the garden's power, for they were thus holding themselves up into the main stream of the Great Work and thus they began to draw the attention of some very strong souls. They sank their roots a little deeper, held their leaves a little longer in the fall, and put up new leaves sooner in the following spring.
Also, as you would surely guess, with all the congress of cogitation going there more of the humans at Chalice Well took to lingering among the flower beds to think deep thoughts. There soon occurred some very splendid visions of Love among the roses and just as soon one old half-hollow oak gained fame as a proper speaking tube. This was the big grandfather tree who had stood long years of service down beside the little outflow dam of Chalice Well, dropping many of his acorns year by year into the water there where the two streams of the well converge and jump and run away; he had a little open slit among his buttressing roots where people found that they could slip in offerings or inquiries and whisper and listen to replies from various realms.
The staff took to making time among the plants a regular part of the healing ritual which they offered to the public, so that each little bunch of naked bathers would troop up from the cleansing pool to sit and sing awhile among hydrangea shrubs and such. They soon began, of course, to find proper names for the various spots about and they got some new signs put up in various places giving visitors directions to 'The Garden'.
Ah now, my friend, you must know too that it was very well for the Great Druid to partake in this bit of strength, for he would soon be called back to his duty. Five times since Uther's wooing, the glowing Moon had turned the face she shows the human world so that on that peaceful summer day, the Lady Duchess Igraine would stand the sea cliffs and trot the stone-fenced country lanes of her Cornish realm with belly well swollen and many distant thoughts. Only five moons more there were ere Yule when she would pace up and back her privy chamber again in yearning expectation of a man, but now with her ladies present too. She would shout for Merlin then, shout silently with all her might and grief for a great druid to come quick and spirit off this new man to long years of hidden safety, this child of brilliant light who was not her husband's but her nation's and the world's.
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