The Gravitas of Gravel

Gravel walks, pea-stone driveways, granite thresholds: there is something elemental about them, almost eternal, given the durability your average rock.

More finely divided sands or stone dusts are shifting and changeable, subject to wind and rain, while soils, with their humus and invertebrate life forms, are exuberant in their seasonal mutabilities of rooting, shooting, flowering and fruiting, followed by autumn decline and wintry dormancy or death.

The rocks endure the same, season in and season out.

There’s a patch of gravel a step up from the parking lot on the way to the front door of the Worcester House, followed by granite steps and a curving brick path to the porch.

Starting in the spring, profusions of grass stalks, clover, purslane, oxalis, and other assorted plant life make a beach-head there and flourish in the southern exposure, reaching down to the soil beneath the broken stone.

Before long, that stretch of gravel reflects the busy minds of all of us as we come for group meetings, a hodge-podge of unplanned vegetation popping up helter-skelter here and there.

It’s never seemed right to leave that gravel patch in such a state, mirroring the condition of our arrival instead of suggesting the possibility of relief in the uncluttered stillness of meditation.

So every few Saturday mornings, as one of the property maintenance tasks, we mount a grooming campaign, carefully extracting the delicate vegetation and raking the gravel smooth again. When the soil is moist, precise attention and a gradually applied pulling force remove the plant whole from its stronghold with a satisfying sensation of release.

The result is an outdoor threshold of cleared expanse that welcomes in the pilgrim from the bustle of the mind (and from the less well-controlled and unruly vegetation of the rest of parking lot, where crabgrass reigns supreme!).

This must be why Zen gardens are popular, as they provide just that respite from the confusion outside their gates with a vision of groomed sand, artistically placed rocks, and serene stepping stones.

The real connoisseur and beneficiary, however, is the gardener, who experiences not only the aesthetics of the outcome, but the peace and bliss of full connection in the act of maintenance as well.

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