When I was a little girl, I helped my father plant a garden. He was a master gardener, not in the sense of taking a course, although he held a degree in agriculture. No, he was a master gardener in the fact of loving plants, and loving the process of gardening from beginning to end. Before the seeds were planted, the earth must be tilled, the little tractor pulling the plow, disturbing the rocks that grow so well and turning over the soil.
My father knew the ground would need to be turned over several times, that fertilizer must be mixed in. He measured each row, tying string to stakes at each end to ensure the rows were straight. Each row was hoed just deep enough for a seed to be planted, but not so deep that the seeds could not grow. I walked along dropping corn kernels in the row, strategically placed, two at a time. I loved the bright pink color – at that time corn was treated before planting. We must be careful not to put the kernels either too close or too far apart. Cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins were different. THEY must be planted in small mounds and given freedom to roam. We worked together, the children doing their part, my father leading the way. This was his specialty and my mother was nowhere to be seen. She loved her music. He loved his plants and books. They poured their seeds of music and nature into our lives and, though we never noticed, they were growing us all the time. We were just some of the things they grew.They found great solace in escaping city life, in buying a simple country home, and surrounding us with music, books, animals, and large vegetable gardens.
We looked forward to the time when the corn grew high and ripened, tassels turning brown and a summer evening consisted of shucking the ears, boiling the corn, slathering it with butter, sprinkling it with salt, and feeling the soft kernels pop as the juice ran down our chins. The room was full of laughter and talk and life was simple and good.
It was August and school would not begin until after Labor Day. It was a distant thought. As children, we did not realize the beauty of this experience, foolish as we were. We did not realize these days would be treasured in years to come – and that was just as it should be, for children do not need the burden of being made to appreciate the everyday-ness of life. They must be allowed to live each day fully and memories will appear in their older years, when they are needed.
During the winter months, in between reading Solzhenitsyn or Louis L’Amour in front of a roaring fire, and journeying with us through the Little House books, our father studied his seed magazines and planned his garden. The gardens grew as the years went by, to include three separate glorious spaces. Gourds were grown simply for their beauty, laid out to dry, and then to be shellacked to a lovely shine and shaken with vigor by certain children to hear the seeds rattle. These were used purely for decoration and enjoyment.
As I look back on this now, I realize this was not an unusual experience for the time and area in which I grew up. Families often planted their gardens together and children seldom had time to contemplate the boredom that is so rampantly expressed in our present age. There were weeds to pull and, later, vegetables to pick. Summers days of wandering through the fields, a stalk of Timothy grass hanging from one’s mouth, feet and head bare, were the norm. Sunscreen was unheard of, a burdensome invention yet to come. We felt the sun warm our bodies and lifted our faces for its blessing.
Without television or screens of any kind, I wandered happily over the hills never realizing the charmed life I’d been granted. And yet, I did not disdain it. There was a joyous feeling to picking tiny wild strawberries with my siblings in the middle of a wide, open field. All in all, life was good, free of worries, full of hope. We did not choose to be grateful, we simply were.
Now we live in the terribly enlightened year of 2022. Screens abound. Children must be instructed to play in the fresh air. Social media has taken the place of kitchen table discussions. Friends are too busy to drop by. Strawberry fields have given way to housing developments. It’s a brave new world where twenty-somethings exchange looks of disdain for their elders’ lack of wokeness and breathe a sigh of relief that we have escaped the gentle life of all that was truly good and beautiful. Now, we must schedule our times of reflection if that is even to be.
As for me, I’m holding on to gratefulness. I’m choosing the wide open country and walks into good books. I’m looking for wild strawberries and kitchens full of friends and neighbors. I’m hoping the Wendell Berry life is still available and I want to invite all who wish, to come away with me. There are still so many lanes to wander, so many trails to explore. I want to grab the hands of all those woke disciples and lead them to the land of plenty — no shoes, no hats, no sidewalks, just the good fresh air and the folks you love. I dare any screen or tight schedule to compete with that.