Wild Deer, Dreams and Disappointment

‘Always, we begin again’
St Benedict

I had been carefully nurturing my seedlings for weeks. It had become part of my early morning routine to go out and check on them, pull out any weeds, check for bugs, then water and fertilise, as necessary. They were perfectly positioned to get optimum sun and I took great delight in admiring them whilst I drank my morning cup of tea. The lettuce was finally big enough to start providing me with some home-grown salad leaves, the basil was fragrant, the parsley flourishing and I predicted that my cherry tomatoes were only a week away from sweet, juicy, readiness. I was so excited.

I come from a long line of gardeners. My father’s family are farmers, going back at least five generations, my grandmother grew the most gorgeous flowers and, for more than 30 years, my father has worked at the local Botanical Gardens in the plant nursery. I, however, had not inherited his skill. My previous attempts at gardening had been embarrassingly unsuccessful, but this time it was different. Finally, I was stepping into my destiny as a gardener and plant whisperer extraordinaire. In a matter of days, I would experience the sweet taste of success; basil, parsley, lettuce and tomatoes for all of my friends. What a feast.

I arrived home from my regular, Friday morning gym class around 7am. Before going inside, I went to survey my plant kingdom, eager to see what magic had taken place overnight. To my horror, all had been destroyed. My precious tomato plants had been decapitated and upended, the lettuce mown down to the core, my herbs nothing but stalks. I was fairly confident about what had happened but I ran down to our lower garden fence and found the confirmation I was looking for. Deer hoof prints and deer poo were there in abundance. The feral deer, that wreaked havoc in the national park that bordered our suburb, had crossed our neighbour’s fence and helped themselves to the salad bar in my backyard.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit how devastated I was by this event. I am a passionate animal lover but this was not OK! Didn’t those deer know how precious these plants were to me, how much time and attention I had poured into my plant family? Frustrated and more than a little sad, I poked around in the dirt of my garden and did my best to salvage what I could from the deer feeding frenzy. I replanted what remained of the tomatoes and lettuce, gave everything a good watering and some more fertiliser, and silently prayed that my damaged plants would come back to life.

Disappointment is hard, having a dream destroyed (even if it’s by a creature as cute as Bambi) is heartbreaking. I have experienced my fair share over the years, from the inevitable dramas of jobs that didn’t work out or the teenage romance that ended in tears, through to the gut punching and often blindsiding disappointments of deep loss, grief and betrayal. None of it has been pleasant and some of it has been breathtakingly awful. There’s no sugar-coating these experiences. They are painful and exhausting and are in no way soothed by a pithy internet meme or an inspirational quote on a mug.

The journey through each loss has always been unique, yet one element always remains the same. Eventually, I find myself in that familiar place where a decision needs to be made about what comes next.

Will I dare to dream and hope again?
Will I allow my heart and hands to stay open, to trust and love once more?
Will I take the risk of replanting the remnants of a dream destroyed?

Yes, I will.

I will keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep showing up. For, in spite of the pain, the fatigue and the tempting allure of cynical indifference or detachment, the promise of life, joy and belonging always calls me forward. Hope, the stubborn belief that there is more to life than this present sadness, draws me on. Each step a reminder that, sometimes, choosing to believe again, and start again, is the most courageous and defiant statement of faith I can make.

It’s been a while since my garden was destroyed by Bambi. Each morning since, I have faithfully watched and watered and prayed over my plants. I have also taken some deer-proofing measures in our yard. You may laugh but my plants have come to represent so much more than just salad ingredients to me. Their struggle for life is a daily reminder of my own decision to persist in the face of the tough challenges that I’m currently facing.

What was once lush, green and flourishing is now mostly dirt dotted with stubby, green stalks and the faintest hint of new growth. But it’s there. New life is emerging. Not yet abundant but definitely present. Some days it feels like it’s taking too long but most days I am grateful that, what I thought was dead, is slowly coming back to life.

Hope is a song sung when everything else says that you shouldn’t be singing.
Hope is joy.
Hope is a testimony that says, ‘even if it doesn’t come true I will live like it might’.
Hope is what helps us survive.
Hope is a little light.
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in our soul.

 Padraig O Tuama



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