Posted by: A Part of the Solution | June 11, 2010


Poet, novelist and mythographer Robert Graves makes the point (over and over) that there was universal worship of the Great Goddess back in the day, but that she had two–or more–aspects. I’m most interested in her nature as Death-in-Life. Possibly, this is because I’ve been working that end of the spectrum in our garden lately.

The farm manager is a master of planting. He’s a thorough fertilizer. He’s a dedicated waterer. These are all good things. They are necessary if there will be a garden at all. But I’ve cornered the Death-in-Life market, and my monopoly suits me down to the ground.

When the seeds have sprouted, I am the one who comes and thins them so that there will be room for the best to grow to maturity. I identify those seedlings and sprouts that aren’t up to par, and insist that they be pulled and replaced. I water, certainly. But when I do, it is in order to facilitate pulling weeds. These are the tasks of Death-in-Life.

I should mention I’m a champion pruner and pincher-back, and dead-header for that matter. Wherever rigor and finitude create plenty and beauty, there is Death-in-Life. It’s not the prettiest job description on the books, but it’s one of the most necessary.

Think of the garbage collectors. Even if you don’t very often, remember what our urban landscapes look like whenever they’re on strike for only a little while. When the necessary end of things is denied,  whole systems becomes backed up with detritus and too much evidence of our living. The same is true of plumbers. Their job isn’t delightful, but without it, we’re stuck with all the evidence of our carbon based entropy into perpetuity–or at least it feels like perpetuity when our toilets won’t flush and our sinks don’t clear.

In tropical environments, there’s always a tradition of worshipping some aspect of the Death Bringer. S/he may wear bones, blood and/or tears, yet there’s no escaping that in environments so drastically overcrowded with life, death is a prerequisite for new things to come into being successfully.

I like pulling weeds. I like cutting infested branches from sound fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. I like pruning health into fussy, overbred roses. I even get some satisfaction from dusting pesticides over my vulnerable cultivars to protect them from the senseless depredations of destructive bugs.

Sometimes, I envy those who have a gift for inspiring life in plants. Sometimes, I wish I were the one to bring everything into being. Sometimes, I imagine I could make the transition to universal nurturer.

And then I find a mess of flea beetles infesting my romanesco. Then I discover that the purple dragon carrots can’t get any larger in as much as they’re way too crowded together. Then I see the lambsquarters and the crabgrass shading out the hand-planted basil seedlings.

And then I pull my work gloves on. Because it’s time to take names and kick butt. Go Death-in-Life!



  1. Kali? Shiva?

    hey – didn’t you appear as Shiva at a Halloween party lo these many years ago? (And a damned fine thing it was, if I remember the pictures)

    Maybe you really were expressing a part of yourself.

    • It was Kali, and you’re right–it suited me fabulously. Every time I wore the costume (and that was lots for a while there) I won competitions and the admiration of all who gazed upon me.

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