The Beauty of Aging

Have you ever been in an old garden?

Last weekend, I was back at Camp Joy Gardens, a 40-year old garden where I apprenticed a couple years ago. Every time I’m there, whether for one day or one year, Camp Joy always teaches me something new.

This time, it was all about roses. More specifically, antique roses. These are not your run of the mill, straight-stem, scentless roses. These are roses that arc and ramble. Roses with delicious fragrances of citrus and spice. Roses with dizzying swirls of petals and drooping clusters of blossoms. Roses of fascinating hues – coppery orange, ruby red, apricot yellow, velvety crimson.

We were given the delightful task of harvesting the best blooms for making Mother’s Day bouquets. But soon, we found ourselves completely lost in experiencing the roses. We meandered through the garden stopping by each rose, sampling its unique fragrance and delighting in its beauty.

In those moments, as I looked up at the towering roses above me, some of which reached well over 20 feet into the air, I thought about how old these roses are and their seasoned beauty – the kind of beauty that is only possible with age and must be created by time.

“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

Jorge Luis Borges

I mulled over this beauty for awhile, thinking about how much I’ve dreaded aging during much of my youth.

Most of us don’t look forward to aging. We see it as slow decay and lost of youth, vitality, and stamina. We fill our days in busyness, hurrying from one moment to the next trying to squeeze it all in before we get too old. And then one day, we look back and wonder, where did all the time go?

“Be sweet and slow, life, like the honey and the bees, and you’ll taste all the flowers that they brush with their knees.”

Ohara Hale

When I think of all the perennial flowers and fruit trees at Camp Joy Gardens, which bear the most beautiful blooms and the tastiest of fruits, I appreciate their age even more.

There is so much beauty in maturity and I look forward with excitement to the day when my garden and orchards will be 40 years old; and I will be 80 years old. Of course, I won’t be bearing beautiful blooms nor tasty fruits, but just maybe, with enough luck and enough patience, I could achieve some of that seasoned beauty I see in these roses.

“That must be what the great artists see and paint. That must be why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight: they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep.”

-Ursula K. Le Guin

“may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile”

-E. E. Cummings


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