Friday, July 5, 2013

Plant Training: What My Garden Teaches Me

As published in the July 2013 Central PA Hibu magazines


A modern garden contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library. - Henri Frédéric Amiel, Swiss philosopher and poet 


After a torturous nearly 2 year hiatus due to several moves, I am pleased to announce that the garden at the new place is up and running!  My suburban yard is being converted from what is, in my opinion,completely useless, manicured, cookie-cutter fescue to beautiful raised veggie beds and dwarf fruit trees that will soon yield a delicious bounty for me to incorporate into my meal planning for the hungry brood.  The positive effects of nutrition that these things provide to me are obvious (and discussed thoroughly by those more educated in such matters than this humble writer), but there are also the other benefits to consider- those teachings so beneficial to mind and spirit that when properly practiced will render menotably less compelled to nag, thus more pleasant for my stepsons to live with. See, everyone benefits from the garden, even the teenagers.  And where you have teenage boys, you have a need for patience.  In February, I started sowing my seeds on the plant stand that my husband built.  Nagging and stomping my feet about additions to my busy schedule will not make those seeds more quickly ascend from their dark and dirty depths and into the factory generated sunshine in my garage.  They are going to do their own thing on their own time.  They've been doing it this way since before people were even here.  Their system works, I am at its mercy, and I not only benefit from the end result, but depend on it to keep me alive. Buddhism teaches of the impermanence of all things and for me, the garden is a good place to see this in practice.  We take this never ending cycle for granted.  In the fall, despite anything and everything I do to nurse that lettuce that I raised from the tiny seed, it will die.  It is the natural cycle of it- these plants will live, die, and return to the dirt in the form of nutrition for the next generation the following April.   For food to grow and thrive as all living things do naturally, it will indulge in my compost consisting of scraps from fruity counterparts from distant lands sacrificed for the cause. My kitchen bucket is filled thoughtfully, because I know that what I put in there this year will be feeding the stuff that I eat next year. The simple act of putting my apple core into the bucket instead of the landfill makes a huge difference in the lives of the plants and humans that I value. Despite the fact that I am one the most evolutionarily advanced beings on this planet, I must submit to this continuum if I am to survive.  My small actions matter in the eternal cycle of life.  Such deep philosophical concepts can be used in all aspects of daily life, including peaceful co-existence with the aforementioned teenage stepsons.  The concepts make sense; the proverbial seed has been planted.  But to take this knowledge and put it to positive use is an altogether different matter.   If you're not willing to get in there and get dirty, nothing is going to grow but unsightly and inedible weeds that, left unhampered, will take over everything in the yard, pushing out the beautiful things that have taken years to seed down.  Once you clear out the brush, you might be surprised by what is under there, fighting its way into the sun.  Making positive change in life is hard physical, mental and spiritual work.  With a few more seasons of practice, I hope to get pretty good at it.  No rush.  I'll blossom when the timing is right.  

Dirty Feet and Clean Dentures: My Continuing Adventures with Grandma Jo

As published in the September 2013 issues of the central PA Hibu publications.

She passed away July 27, 2013 before it could be published. 

7AM. She arrives wearing big fluffy slippers.  But they're only temporary.  Once she gets inside and gets settled in, they'll come off because she would rather be in bare feet.  I'm just like her.  When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother, the Old Bat as I call her with great affection, telling me that she wanted to be buried in her nightgown with her shoeless feet sticking out.   I spent a lot of time with her as a kid, and now, she spends Tuesdays and Thursdays at my house.   As a kid, our evening routine was that of the early-to-bed-early -to-rise-for-fifty-years factory worker: supper, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, bed, then up at 4:30 the next morning to clean the house before breakfast, which was typically Lucky Charms with canned milk.  Sweep the beetles off the car port, make a cake, sit on the porch and swat wasps for the rest of the day. She was the original cook, the one who taught me about her Depression era favorites, like egg custard pie.   When we made one a few weeks ago, she worried that she didn't remember how until I reminded her that she gave me her recipe card a few years ago ("Write it down for me before you forget it, you old bat" were my exact words, as I recall). At 86, her brain and body are wearing down, but when I set the pie ingredients down in front of her, she knew what to do with them.  She crimped the edges of the pie crust and explained to me that when her mother made pie, crimping the crust was always her job.  These days I have to turn the pan for her because she can't see, but her fingers know the old familiar routine.  We put it together and into the oven, and while it bakes to a delicious golden brown and fills my kitchen with the smell of warm and spicy nutmeg, she tells me stories of growing up in Perry County with her 10 brothers and sisters.  Her daddy grew wild hops, and he would make his own beer, wine, and 'shine at home.  The railroad workers were always enthusiastic customers, and it kept everyone fed when times were tough, which was almost always.  Occasionally, she and her sister would 'go fishing', but instead swipe a jug and float it between the rocks to get it cold.  "We got a whippin' when we got caught, but we would always tell him, 'Daddy, if you wouldn't make it, we wouldn't drink it'".  In the afternoon, she wants nothing more than to sit on the porch, and that's exactly what she and her little dog do.  That is what she's always done. While she enjoys the sound of the birds and the warm sunshine on her wrinkly legs, I water the garden, pull weeds, maybe grab some lettuce to incorporate into the meal I'll send home with her in the evening.  Without shoes, of course.  At least once during the course of a day, she tells me, "Oh Erin, don't get old".  Happens to the best of us, you old bat. She can't yodel anymore, and I regret having never asked for my lesson.  She can't put my hair in rag curls any longer. But there are some things you're never too old for.   A cup of coffee and a piece of pie on the porch is one of them.  She and I have done a lot of talking over the years, so we can afford to sit quietly with our feet up for a while enjoying the present, even when memories of the past elude us.  That pie's good.   What the heck, let's have another piece.  You only live once, right?