I love meeting people. The differences are wonderful to me. Teaching has helped me remain appreciative of people younger than myself – they do not shock or dismay me easily. ( I try to remind myself that I appear to them like an aging parent or even a grandmother. I don’t think I will ever see myself as older than they are, but I try.) So, I am drawn to their energy and the freshness of their vision.
In the past few years I have been meeting quite a few young farmers. I had never known or even imagined young farmers when I was their age. Farmers were beautifully gnarly old men who weren’t very interested in me or my concerns. But these are young, vibrant, community-minded farmers. They believe that organic, sustainable farming is the key to the future – politically as well as culturally. And I happen to think they are right.
I am not a vegetable grower by nature, but gardening is important to me. Watching seeds sprout and grow is witnessing transformation. Nurturing life is a responsibility. Kneeling in the sun to plant or weed sometimes feels like a prayer. The earth is sacred – a connection with eternity. My love of gardening is an inheritance.
I learned to appreciate plants while weeding, mowing, planting, and weeding my Mother’s garden. That was a 90-foot bed that was terraced into the hill across the width of our back yard. There were probably 40 flower species minimum in that bed. The yard was also planted with at least 20 tree species – several of them hybrids, gifts of an amateur nursery-man and friend. My Mother painted with flowers. My Father sculpted with pruners.
My Mother’s father staked out a corner of our backyard for sweet-corn and tomatoes. We have pictures of him in a big straw hat and denim overalls. My paternal Grandmother cultivated flowers, vines, bushes, trees, and an unknown quantity of vegetables. I never noticed the vegetables. The wisteria, forsythia, camellias, peonies, and (my favorites) Johnny Jump-Ups filled my eyes with every visit. Her yard was a double-length city plot, maybe 15 yards wide, filled to bursting.
Grandma’s family moved to Lancaster from a farm in Eden Township around 1904. ( I know, they left a farm in Eden.) We have a picture of my Grandmother standing at the end of the farm lane when she was 3 or 4 years old. She is dressed in what appears to be a nightgown and her bare feet are covered with dust. I would like to know where that farm was. I just want to stand on that piece of family history and study an old tree or hedgerow. The physical connection would be nice. It isn’t necessary, but it really would be nice.
When I work in my garden or think of that old family farm, I feel a deep connection with the past. I think of the farmers who settled America. They had departed from a continent farmed by Anglo-Saxon, after Celtic, after Neolithic men and women of the old and ancient past. And before them there was Abel, the brother who wasn’t mentioned nearly as much as his brother – the murderer – in my Sunday Church School memories. Yet the rhythm of our lives is still the timing of planting, harvesting, and resting with the seasonal cultivation of our landscape. The rhythm of our souls follows the ancient mythologies of a sacred landscape – nature personified and worshipped as holy.
And now I am thinking of going back to school to study horticulture. I meant to slow down in the garden. I was going to plant fewer flowers and more bushes this year. Let the mint and bergamot spread to fill in more space, seed the bed by the shed with grass. But recently I heard “ever the Mother, birthing and tending,” while trying to stand in the waning quarter of life’s circle. The Mother‘s timing is unexpected – but that is her realm of influence. The timing is everything, after all.