I’ve been neglecting the garden, and everything would be dead if it weren’t for the much-needed rainfall that ended our winter drought last week. Now the lawn, which we let turn brown and dusty until the rains came along and took pity on it, is lush and verdant and keeps my husband busy for at least a couple of hours each weekend. He resents this deeply, and I can’t say I blame him; but I like the green nonetheless.
The plants are suffering, though. A number of them need repotting, and I need to take a firm hand to the weeds that are choking the dwarf Meyer lemon tree and my favorite lavender bush. I think I’m just too disheartened, every time I go out into the yard, at the gopher civilization that’s taken over and murdered our lovely grapefruit tree.
It’s a very personal loss, because I fancy myself a sort of horticultural messiah, skilled at raising plants from the dead. I really like a lost cause, always have. Had a lot of stupid relationships because of it, early on. Seems I have the eye to see the potential of a thing — can see the prince in the frog, the princess in the chambermaid, the Academy Award winner in the struggling character actor – as well as the conceit to think I can coax realization from potential. Transformation of something broken and half-dead into something beautiful and lush is thrilling as hell. But resurrection – bringing forth life from death – is a labor of love that requires a lot of energy, and for that reason it’s a tough act to pull off.
Energy – that fine, pure dominion of Mars – is, in fact, the common denominator of life and death; hence, its astrological rulership of both Aries (birth) and Scorpio (death). In my garden at this Aries New Moon (March 24, 2020, 2:28 am PDT), the brash vigor of Aries is the face of Spring, filled with possibilities and new life. At this particular New Moon, with so many planets in flinty Capricorn, we’ll encounter hard, rocky soil; we’ll have to labor hard to make it ready to receive new life.
And the garden also teaches us that there is no life without death; foul, impolite, Scorpionic matter gets turned over and around and makes the soil a rich and nutritious thing. The hard labor of insects and enzymes, the vibrant energy of breaking down organic material into a usable state, is the foundation on which spring’s brave and tender beauty is built. So if all we celebrate of spring is the Aries emergence of green and vibrant foliage, then we’ve lost half the story of Mars – the dark, earthy, breaking-down Mars of Scorpio.
I attended Catholic grammar school for several years, and grew to love the ritual of the church. It may sound morbid, but I always loved the week before Easter; loved the sober, chilling Stations of the Cross, loved that there was no Mass celebrated on Good Friday, the day when Jesus’ death on the cross was remembered. My father’s death a couple of years before had disposed me to dwelling a bit heavily on the death side of the life/death equation; joyful Easter Sunday, with its triumphant messages of rebirth and the impermanence of death, just didn’t resonate for a grieving ten year old. All my new beginnings — moving to a new place, living in a new family structure, joining a new religion — had been precipitated by a sudden, violent and quite permanent death. So Good Friday was the one day when I felt in sync with my congregation, tuned into the passion of the savior, testifying to the battering, violent, painful expression of Mars in his breaking down clothes. It was many years before I came to trust that the joyful life force symbolized by Easter – and its secular counterpart, the Aries Equinox – is as valid as the tragic drama of Good Friday, and that, as one is the constant companion of the other, it is just as reliable.
On my desk is an old photo of my sister and me, ages 6 and 5, in our frilly blue Easter dresses, standing with our brother in our grandmother’s lush rose garden in rural Indiana. The photo’s out of focus and fading with age, and it looks exactly the way I remember my first nine springs — soft, hazy, tender. In my sadder moments I wish to see life as gentle and uncomplicated as it was then, to feel the pure Aries thrill at life’s limitless opportunities. But most days, I wouldn’t trade the wisdom of a lifetime of Scorpio’s breaking down process. Loss and savagery, failure and ruthlessness, cruelty and hurt come to us inevitably as a natural consequence of Mars energy in the world — the price paid for progress — and we lose our innocent Aries enthusiasm soon enough; but over time it is broken down into the rich, emotional loam of Scorpio, from which beautiful things grow.
A new photo taken today would look like this: Our brother has been gone for many years now, so it’s just my sister and me posing together in the arid, post-nuclear landscape of the California high desert where she lives with her family. Instead of Easter dresses we’re wearing our customary funky leggings and big shirts, mugging for the camera. The new photo is sharp and clear, but look closely and you’ll see a kind of softness — not the softness of happy, uncomplicated little girls, but the gentleness of strong women who’ve lost loved ones, had their share of disappointments and have grown deeper for it, and closer to one another; who nurture scraggly gardens, cozy homes, and happy families in arid terrains. Look closely and you may glimpse giggling Aries girls in those two Scorpionic women as they turn over the soil, drinking life deeply, sharing a hearty laugh on a beautiful spring afternoon.