So often, the scratches and bruises I sustain are the only visible evidence that I have been working in the garden. The rhubarb grew four feet high this year and produced yucca-like blooms at the tops of its broad stalks. I waited for the curiosity to die and then cut it down with a machete. Gathering the stalks and brown fronds for disposal, I wondered how many North Americans cut their rhubarb with a machete. We aren’t fond of rhubarb; I can eat it with a lot of sugar, but I can’t eat a lot of sugar, so it’s a weed to us, another remnant of the “inherited garden” that came with our house.

I have a very good friend who’s solidly Reformed in her theology and a self-confessed tomboy. Don’t let her fool you; she has a feminine heart that melts on contact with the atmosphere, and she’s a beautiful woman. But she’s a knock-out in a Stetson hat, too. She loves to give gifts, and she’s given me a wonderful volume of Puritan theology and a gold Guess change pouch in the same birthday load. But she always, always includes an embroidered handkerchief in the gift bag. I carry a small pack of tissues in my backpack because public restrooms sometimes are out of toilet paper. I’m not a hankie person. It doesn’t matter. I have a drawer full of embroidered handkerchiefs from my friend who’s been trying for years to make a lady of me.

The handkerchiefs remind me of pruning roses. The roses send forth beautiful blooms and they send forth useless, long, gangly shoots, called suckers. The trick is to encourage blooms and discourage suckers that will not produce buds but will suck energy from the plant and deter buds from receiving nourishment. A friend who used to work for a florist showed me the proper way to prune roses once the bloom has faded, clipping it down the stem at a group of five leaves. I have no idea what the advantage is, but I do it because my friend said to. I suppose the goal is to make the roses comport to trim efficiency and beauty–to make them ladylike, in a way. But roses have no natural inclination to be beautiful; they have to be pruned constantly, even though blooming produces seeds, the plant’s mechanism of survival.

I wonder at this; I’m surprised it did not perplex Agur.