- There is a Season
Patrick Lane's There Is a Season is described by its publisher as a 'memoir of love, despair, hope and staggering courage.' In fact it is far more interesting than that string of clichés. Though the book chronicles Lane's life from his youth in the British Columbia interior to his current garden on Vancouver Island, it is neither merely a biography nor a how-to for the intending gardener. And much of what would seem, in many other hands, sensational or sentimental is recounted here with the combination that Wordsworth endorsed in poetry: 'a spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling' joined with 'emotion recollected in tranquillity.' In Lane's case it is a tranquillity freed at last from addiction and endorsed by his new-found love not just of gardening but of botany and the fecund languages of its discipline.
This is an extraordinary book, not least in its crossing and deleting of literary genres; sex, botany, violence, and imagination are all part of its text. Indeed the book (though occasionally 'breathless') is far better written than its (rather clichéd) title would suggest; its chapters are like cantatas. Like his garden on Vancouver Island, There Is a Season will brook no boundaries. What proliferates in his garden proliferates also in his mind. The book is a sort of autobiography laced with intense incident. If it seems occasionally overly ecstatic, it is so in a confessionally reflective way.
What might seem sentimental in much of Lane's account of his poetic life and his latter-day horticultural life is literally contradicted by two discourses in which he moves and writes: his poetic career and the botanic [End Page 409] interests of his latter life. The plant-lists at the end of each chapter are litanies of plants and birds and mushrooms; they root the narrative in places and time. They are not simply specimen displays either of his botanical knowledge or of that violent earlier world in which much of his life was spent.
Although the sexagenarian Lane is my age, he seems very much a creature of an older time and space: as far away as my father's generation, scraped knuckles and poor rations. His recollective mind lives in a dense and often violent past in which it does not seem extraordinary to come upon the description of his strangely deracinated mother gazing transfixed at his teenage self masturbating in the garden of his early home. And he writes of his disadvantaged youthful self, pawed by old men for ice cream and small change, as if their propositions (and his clever evasions) were no more than the dandelions and purslane in his garden. If Lane has transcribed himself into the various selves that compose this book, it is with the insights of Proust and Wordsworth, but translated into the discourse of botany that holds his award-winning book together. There is nothing of the sentimental onanism that characterizes too much of contemporary garden writing. If his sight is micro, his scope is macro. What might be (and often is in writing of this kind) merely mystical is grounded by the botanic. [End Page 410]
Douglas Chambers, Department of English, University of Toronto