Sweeping Habits


There is a black walnut tree that lives just over the edge of the property line, that makes quite a mess, nearly year round, dropping leaves and nuts and branches and bark. This would not be a real problem, but for the fact that this debris, as well as the roots, are poisonous to many other trees and plants and permeates the soil if left to break down. Anything living under the canopy, inside the dripline, of this tree is at risk. Even though, overall, the tree is great for wildlife, it limits other kinds of life – limits its ability to sprout, or to thrive – nearby.

I’ve read all kinds of things about how to deal with this, my research fueled by the fact that the sunniest part of the yard where I might have a garden, is indeed, under the drip line of this tree. I’ve read about consistently removing the debris, gardening above the ground level with barriers, and planting things that will tolerate the poisonous “juglone” the tree produces. I actually grew lettuce, and gleefully gorged on big summer salads, as I’ve been used to in previous gardens, until, after a half dozen experiences of feeling mysteriously and vaguely unwell, I finally connected it to the black walnut effects.

The leaves fall nearly year round, and already are calling for me to sweep them, and I once again silently considered the possibliity of a daily sweeping of black walnut debris from the porch and driveway and patio and the pots and gardens on the patio. I had a flash of thinking today, that if I had a daily practice of sweeping those leaves from the plants at the edge of that dripline, I wonder what might thrive. A part of me rebels (or gives up?), wanting to be “all one” with the leaves and allow them to exist with oak and maple and all the others.

And I thought, how like having an internal practice, daily, in the morning, this sweeping is. The thoughts about what good the sweeping might or might not do; is it “worth” the effort. The wondering about the commitment to it – could I keep it. Knowing what it’s felt like the times when I could keep it up. How it doesn’t have to be rigid; some days it isn’t possible, but the collections of days of sweeping can make up for the missed days here and there, and that sometimes extra time is needed to keep up with the sweeping up. Sometimes the extra sweeping out is needed, from outside forces, the storms and damage of them.

I thought how I could build the sweeping up inside myself into a real and necessary thing, just as real as sweeping the leaves. Daily, I could value and protect and sweep away the debris, external and internal, that threatens to deaden my creative force, my life force. A time protected from being overresponsive to others, phone and email, too many words spoken aloud, from the sound of inner critics and worries and to-do lists. A time to let formerly good ideas and other remnants from the past start to fall away to make room for new growth, or prepare for rest, or gestate new sparks not yet ready to be birthed.

I can choose to protect and nurture what wants to grow – in me, in the yard – rather than just waiting to see what survives the fallout. It’s an act of hope, of faith, of love. An act of being fully alive, of being willing to invest, to risk, to tolerate all the deaths and losses but not stay stuck there. To protect the ground of being, returning to it and caring for it, with dutiful intention. To embrace the successes and new lives that come, and nurture them – plants, ideas, loved ones, projects. Holding all of it, feeling all of it – life and death in a dance.

I’d started to do this again recently…bit by bit. Sheltering with curious wonder what seems to want attention, space, nurturing. Protecting the little space of myself, around myself, in the morning. Imperfect, but out there, on the patio, warmth in a mug, pen, book, journal – sometimes written in, sometimes not. I knew I needed to do something when I felt that familiar urge to run away to the woods, an urge that kept coming back even right after a trip. It’s long overdue, and taking significant time every day, to make up the lost time. That’s okay. The storms of recent months kept me away, drained my reserves, but now I’m here.

This is what the idea of committing to sweeping black walnut leaves made me think of this past couple weeks as I sit and stare out at them looking back at me. Committing to protecting, nurturing, on purpose, myself, my body, my creative life. Starting to sweep away the debris from the space, to at least offer to that energy, to myself, a welcoming space that says, finally, “I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but I plan to keep this space for you now. You are welcome here. Won’t you come and play for awhile? I’d love to see what we can really do together.”

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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