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The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life Hardcover – January 15, 2013
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As orioles flit, tadpoles leap, and Jack the Demon Cat stalks unsuspecting chipmunks, Roach muses on the nature of nature in a garden she has tended for 25 years. Roach would be the first to admit the garden has, in many ways, tended her, too, and she brings a Zen-like appreciation for the lessons gardens impart to those who are willing to watch, listen, and learn. Informed by the seasons, Roach also gardens with a spiritual respect for earth’s basic elements. Water, in its frozen form, blankets trees in winter, while the land itself bursts forth in reassuring fecundity with spring’s arrival. Summer blazes with fiery heat and color only to have it all drift away on autumn’s chill winds. A pensive gardener, Roach is also passionate in her critique of trends and practices she views as harmful or unproductive, from the politics of seed selling to the pollution of streams. Now aging, along with her beloved garden, Roach, with grace and humor, assesses and accepts the inevitable changes that beset them both. --Carol Haggas
"As a passionate, hopeful and often self-delusional gardener (the only kind of gardener there is!), I loved this book. Margaret Roach writes with intelligence, compassion, and-most of all-sanity. Her work is a blessing."―Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love
"As I read this witty, revealing, sometimes poetic confessional I felt I understood for the first time what a garden could be-a work of art, a source of pleasure and solace, an object of beauty, a provider of nourishment. And why Margaret calls the plot she tends 'my monster.' This is the story of a real relationship: Margaret and her garden, a love story."―Anna Thomas, author of The Vegetarian Epicure and Love Soup
"In matters of both earth and heart, Margaret Roach is fearless. She digs deep. What she finds, and what she offers in this lyrical memoir of a gardening year, is hard-won wisdom laced with humor, hands-on how-to delivered with a poet's touch, experience embraced with fervor, humility, and grace."―Katrina Kenison, author of Magical Journey and The Gift of an Ordinary Day
"On her knees in the garden, Margaret cultivates an intimate relationship with the Beloved, finding what the body, heart and soul may most desire. As Rumi says: "Why should we not play like that sometimes, having fun, exploring some nooks...in our own backyard."―Daniel Ladinsky, bestselling Penguin poet-translator of Hafiz and Rumi
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In "The Backyard Parables," Margaret Roach describes her works and days in her country home through the four seasons. This usually is a tried-and-true framework for books about gardening as well as for books about Gardening as a Metaphor for Life. Usually, such a book is linear and makes for an easy-to-follow story line, reminding us, perhaps of Thoreau's "Walden."
Not so here. Think matrix where the story is episodic, horizontal, revealed from season to season. Consider, for example, the woodchuck. The woodchuck does its thing in spring, eating the sprouts of the peas down to the ground. Our heroine, alerted by its whistling and the vanished seedlings, tracks it to an opening likely to be its den, plans to set a trap. Next paragraph is off on an utterly unrelated topic. Many pages onward, in a later season, the rodent reappears in several pages of failed trapping efforts, followed again by another set of thoughts entirely. And in a third season we have even more on the by now very fat fellow in a riff on neighbors who have trapped successfully and on the impossibility of ridding the woods of woodchucks. Really, why bother, and what are the relative claims of chucks and men? Thus, across seasons, an interesting story that can be read as a parable without too much stretching.
Within seasons, however, thought follows thought fractually, like a conversation with some one whose mind leaps from idea to musing to facts to riffs connected in ways many of us can't understand. "What," we may say, "made her think of THAT next? Where's the sense in all this sensibility?"
Reading Roach can be like reading "Finnegan's Wake." Joyce's language can be gorgeous, the wordplay sometimes impenetrable but rarely dull, yet where "Finnegan's Wake" is going & what's the meaning(s) still a puzzlement to scholars and a barrier to readers who can say "Why bother?" or choicer epithets.
"The Backyard Parables" can seem like this. It is part autobiography, part observations, part fillers of culinary and horticultural sidebars, part continuing stories of country living and familiar characters from earlier books, such as Roach's cat, Jack. The sidebars include Garden Design 101, Look Out the Window; The Politics of Seed Shopping; Seed Shopping Rules: You Can't Have It All;and Why I Grow Hybrids & Beirlooms---and that is just from Chapter 1, winter. Thus "The Backyard Parables" is likely to be zero stars to readers who can't stand this style and five stars to readers who find the idea-bytes provocative, charming, Anne-Tyler-like good reading.
OK: so this calls for a diff'rent kind of reading where the continuities are across the seasons for the main themes, associated, I think with Myself, My Family & Friends; Animals; and Plants. The lessons may come more from animal than plant life: the complexity of family relations, the human/animal balances in woodchucks and the deer, and with romance and near-death of some highly individualized frogs. There is, to be fair, plenty on plants, such as readiness for survival or thrival among transplants and on the matter of weeds in the compost. Yes, at times the writing reaches for wit and grasps cute; at times, the six synonyms for one verb seems too transparently "I promised 250 pages"; at times the fractals get overly fractured.
Yet if the reader is willing to deal with this, or even is pleasantly challenged by it, the gain is worth the pain. Perhaps to those brought up on texting and blogs, there may be no pain at all, in which case, this may be your joyous read for the winter season. Dismay at style and format for those brought up more on Vita Sackville-West's gardening books or better still for lessons on gardening and life, Thoreau, think again before you buy.
Highly recommend this to anyone who likes to garden or is looking at finding a little peace in their life.