Garden Notes: Nurture

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When I returned from the College Summit Workshop, I was amazed at how much my garden had grown in just four days. I spent Monday afternoon stringing and canning beans, letting the slow snap of the pods soothe my mind and welcome me back into the routine of home. My tomatoes are struggling this year, due to all the rain, but I still have been able to start my mid-summer diet—tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and some in-between). This morning, I diced one of my salad varieties into petite bites and stirred the red bits into a pan-scrambled egg. Is there a better way to start the day?

Our first night at the College Summit Workshop was spent in training. All the writing coaches gathered in one room and our coordinator took us through the same free-writing exercises we would be asking our students to do over the next three days. After writing for ten minutes, we took turns reading our scribblings to one another, while the others took notes; just as our students would do. This simple activity allowed us to share our stories, to learn about the hearts and passions of each person there. I learned—by the way a voice would change as it held certain words—about the greatest loves these strangers carried. By the end of the night it felt like we knew each other better than some life-long friends.

I learned some things about myself through words shared and the lens of writing. Some things, I guess, we never leave behind. But, perhaps, the broken ways, the hard memories, the things we try to prune away, perhaps these are the very things that become the soil bed for rich growth.

Sometimes I think I love gardening because it proves to me that I can care for something other than myself—that I do have the ability to nurture and cultivate. All those years taking care of myself when no one else would—they have a way of turning the gaze inward. Survival of the fittest, right?

When my boys were born, the desire to nourish and teach and give was so strong the pain of it would overtake me at times. Now that they are older, they try to shake free of the bumpers I’ve put in place for their lives. They want to make their own way. At least in part.

But the garden never shrugs off my hands. My eggplants are beautiful and the summer squash are late but they are coming. I will have late cucumbers too, my planting was distracted by a boy’s graduation this year. Every morning I visit the garden. In the cool of the evening I tend to her needs.

And she will give back in countless ways.

West Virginia Morning: The Million Little Oblivions

Yesterday, when I came home from work, I picked the rest of the kale from my garden. It was a long overdue harvest (and the fence is not yet fixed so I figured I better get busy). I worked diligently down each row, still clad in my work clothes, letting the burn of the evening sun remind my skin of younger days. Something of the smell of sun on soil stirred the memory of our family garden when I was a girl, and I was lost for a time in a rhythm of steady picking and the company of ghosts.

The kale is cleaned and waiting to be added to a soup, but this morning I couldn’t resist sautéing a little red onion in a dollop of bacon grease, dropping in some greens and tomatoes, and scrambling an egg over all that goodness. It’s my favorite springtime breakfast and it felt like a celebration.

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Today is Jeffrey’s last day of school, so I was up early to make his “hello summer” breakfast: special pancakes and a side of sausage. I sent him off with a full tummy and a mamma kiss, and sat at the kitchen table in wonder of the way the earth spins so quickly these days.

As I sat before my celebration breakfast, I watched out the window for the sparrow—the persistent little bird that has taken over my bluebird box. Every spring it’s the same thing—I pull nest after sparrow nest from the box, trying to dissuade the scrappy things from inhabiting. But they always outwit me, building replacement nests with such speed and alacrity that inevitably; the eggs are laid before I can dispose of their bed. And I haven’t the heart to toss them. Instead, each morning I watch for the sparrow head to emerge so that I might simultaneously cuss and praise her grit.

I watch her lift herself up out of the box and fluff her feathers on a nearby branch. And as she pushes off for whereabouts unknown, light comes. It’s the same shaft of light I welcome each morning—brought by a peeking sun funneled through neighboring houses and over rooftops. There is nothing remarkable about that falling light; it’s just an everyday miracle. The way it announces the day and sheds over the backyard, lifting my heart as it spreads like spilled milk on the table.

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As a buttery bite of kale crisps on my tongue, I watch the light move across the yard and I realize, as Christian Wiman says, “the million little oblivions of which the day is made”—all everyday miracles.

Good cause for celebration.

Garden Notes: Seed Changeling

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Yesterday, one of the goats slipped through the fence and when we returned from graduation practice late morning, she was standing in our back yard—perilously close to my garden. I called our neighbor, the goat-man, but he wasn’t picking up, so all I could do was stand guard with a little poker stick and prod at her every time she took a bite of my greens. Each time I did so, I felt so bad that I gently scratched her course-haired nose immediately after. My discipline had little effect. She looked up at me with those vertical pupils—something like adoration on her sweet, kale-stealing face.

We still had a lot of preparation to do for the graduation ceremony that evening. My mom was driving down and I needed to put clean sheets on her bed. Teddy’s slacks still needed ironing, and his gift wasn’t wrapped, not to mention he needed to practice his speech. Time was slipping through my fingers and here I was, goat-sitting.

I walked along the fence line to see if I could find the escape spot. Maybe I could gently urge her back through to the other side. I ran inside and plucked an apple from our fruit bowl. She followed the apple and me along the fence, softly bleating. But I could find no open door through which to coax her. It looked like she had somehow squeezed underneath the already bowed out metal fence. I tried to lift the skeletal remains up and tempt her back under with the apple, but her kindred on the other side caught wind of my fruity treat and came running in a cloud of witnesses. I was soon in danger of having a herd of goats in my yard.

I put the graduate in charge of the poker-stick and drove up to my neighbor’s house to see if anyone could come and retrieve this errant goat. There I learned the goat-man was on his way and when I returned upon the scene he was making the last strides through the meadow to assess the situation. Meanwhile, Miss Goat kept stealing little bites of kale as Teddy ineffectively poked and reprimanded.

The goat-man walked the fence adjacent to our yard and was as mystified as we as to how she had slipped through. He was apologetic, but wondered if I could just lift her up and over to him, then he would inspect the fence for the weak places.

Pick up a goat?

Hilarity ensued. Miss Goat somehow knew we were going to put an end to her adventure and managed to deftly elude us from all sides. At one point, I was possessed with a fit of giggles so pervasive I thought I was going to have to give it up. Finally, we had her cornered by the garden and when she took a bite of kale, I pounced.

Pygmy goats are small but compact and it felt like I was picking up a small Volkswagen. But I handed her off to the goat-man without incident. She joined her other goat friends gladly and soon I was left standing alone, surveying the remains of my kale.

She hadn’t done too much damage, and the greens are nearly past prime anyway. Already the summer squash seeds I had pressed down in between the leafy greens were poking up through the dark soil. I needed to harvest the rest of the lettuce and spinach, pull up all the greens and either use them or feed them to the goats. It is time for the garden’s second wave of crops. The tomatoes and peppers are looking good. My bean plants are nearly four inches tall and looking for more room to vine up and out. I studied the beginning of their twinings and noticed how the remnant of the seeds still clung to the sides of their stems. I gently touched the soft, yellow half moons of the broken pods in wonder.

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How do these growing things begin as one thing and change into something entirely different? Beautiful and fragile all at once?

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I knew I needed to harvest the kale very soon. But the sheets still needed changing and the slacks pressing. And my boy was waiting in the house, filled with anticipation for the evening.

I took a last look at the goat-nibbled greens and headed back inside.

How Singing Heals

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The tender shoots of the greens I planted weeks ago are peeking up through the soil of my garden and filling me with hope. With the wet breath of morning, I tuck more seeds into bed between the green leafy bundles. For now, they sleep, but soon, they too will reach for the sun. The house sparrows have taken over my bluebird box again. Inside their nest are five brown-speckled eggs. No matter how many sparrow nests I pull from that box, they outwit me with perseverance every year. When I reach in to find the raspy nest filled with eggs, I haven’t the heart to pull it from the box. I utter an apology to the bluebirds as prayer.

We are tired. Tired from travel, from lifting the heavy weight of choices, from preparing for what is to come. Friday morning I will fly to Nebraska for the Jumping Tandem Retreat, and I am looking forward to seeing my sisters. But the well of activities that needs doing between here and there feels tremendous. I have been struggling against its depth.

I fill my head with the music of the Psalms and I remember a study my friend Mike told me about that showed how singing boosts our immune systems. “God made our bodies so that singing helps to heal us,” he told me.

I sing to the new greens in my garden. I listen to the birdsong of the persistent sparrows and let my heart be strengthened.

What song do you sing today?

Playdates with God: Promise

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In the long winter my body has forgotten. It has forgotten how to bend and stoop and open to the earth. It remembers only how to fold in upon itself, to become the sleeping seed, to curl up against the cold. But as the green shoots stir and reach up out of their slumber, the dust within me begins to awaken.

All day I pull weeds from the beds in my back yard where beauty is beginning to open her eyes. My ancient bones protest against this reunion, but—like a sister—I press on, letting her awaken gently, making room for the stretch and yawn. I take the flat-edged shovel and make the boundaries sharper, stir the soil on the brim of the beds, let my hands dig deep to break up clods of unyielding earth. I sift it all through my sieve-fingers.

I am not alone. There are many visitors. A hairy woodpecker raps on the trunk of the towering walnut tree. The robin’s song gives cheerful company. Earthworms wriggle and the wind lifts the meadow grasses. A tiny titmouse perches above me and admonishes me for how large and clumsy I am. I talk to him, try making the “pish”-ing sound to signal my good nature. He cocks his head to one side, curious. The sun falls soft over us and the smell of earth is a heady perfume and I am happy.

My body begins to remember.

There is still much work to do and I am reacquainted with ibuprofen but this is the song of spring. We have been preoccupied with a big decision and sleep gives way to worry but fresh air does much to treat this malady. At night I dream about church bells and robinsong and I awaken with the scent of earth in my nostrils and that feeling of excitement that something good will come soon.

The waking earth holds in her womb a promise. The slow awakening helps me remember.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us. **UPDATE: Friends, I had to close the linky due to a large number of inappropriate linkups. Please accept my sincere apologies if any of you, dear readers, inadvertently visited one of these inappropriate links. I’m going to have to think about what to do for our future playdates posts. In the meantime, please leave your link in the comments so our community may continue to visit. Again, I’m so, so sorry!

 

Laura Boggess