Friday, March 9, 2012

Life in the Garden

She kept Farmers’ Almanacs the way some people used to save TV Guide or Reader’s Digest. Worn, but orderly stacked by year, the almanacs marked the highs and lows of a life spent in a garden. The current copy, with the rainfall totals and droughts recorded in her precise print, stayed on a table in the hallway between the kitchen and the outside door.
She had no attachment to things, trends or technology but understood well that there is a season for everything.
Every morning possible, she would pull on her work clothes – bonnet included – and walk out that back door. First stop was the strawberry patch, just to the right. She talked to those berries like friends; they were the front line and critical to her reputation.
The small, warm, wooden henhouse was behind the strawberry patch, on the other side of a metal fence. She would call to her hens by name. Like little girls, the hens clucked happily when she praised their eggs.
Then, she would walk to the other side of the house where the massive garden was so perfectly aligned that drivers on the nearby road would slow down and stare out their windows. Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, onions, okra.
Her relationship with her garden was so well known that the Master Gardeners at the local Agricultural Extension office would call her – when they couldn’t answer someone’s question about what happens to tomatoes when there’s too much rain or when to plant green beans.
She knew where to find God and would talk to Him among the cornstalks, by the creek, alongside the chicken houses, near the hay field.
And somehow, even when the spring was too wet or the summer too hot, she could coax vegetables and fruit out of the Arkansas dirt.
No matter the size of the bounty, she would share with everyone – family, friends, neighbors, farm workers, church members, salespeople. Her polite, specific instructions on how to maintain and prepare the food somehow made you feel more confident. (Did you know that leaving the shucks on the corn in your fridge will keep the corn fresher? Now, you do.)
In gardening, she would say, there are no failures – only lessons learned.  A weed or two offers an excuse to put your hands in the rich dirt. Heavy rain means time to sit on the back porch with a cat on your lap – and watch everything turn green. A failed crop? An opportunity to start over.
She taught me about the seasons and demonstrated how even the Farmers’ Almanac could be wrong. Spending summer days or Saturdays with her, I thought I was just learning how to till, pull, dig, shuck, pluck and gather. But recently – just when I needed them – the life lessons of a gardener returned to me.

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