time in the garden

Regardless of whether we’ve ever held a trowel in our hands, we’ve all been sowing seeds, all the time.  They are the seeds of word and deed, and they’re tricky, because it’s hard to really know what you’re planting.  Often, we don’t know that we’re planting at all.  The garden of Life is a long term project.  The longer you stay alive, the more you find out exactly what you’ve sown.

Those early years of adulthood are especially fruitful, or maybe it’s more accurate to say “seedful”.  I guess that’s the time when we’re supposedly “sowing our wild oats”.  But it’s more than wild oats.  Sometimes we sow perennials.  If we sowed seeds of friendship and loving kindness, with luck we may reap generations of fruit.  Again, it takes years to find out.  I love surprises.orion me and melissa

Melissa and I met in college.  We were mutual friends through a housemate of mine in one of the rambling, experimental communal houses I lived in back then (note on communal living: it all comes down to who washes the dishes.).  We became very close.  After college, we began traveling.  We didn’t travel together, so it was easy to drop in and out of contact.  I never felt our mutual affection falter.  This past decade, we’ve both been busy sowing more seeds, carving out our lives, watching from afar in Facebook land.

Something stirred this season in the garden patch of our friendship.  Melissa’s thirteen year old son, Orion, developed a strong interest in food and gardens.  Being the engaged and capable parent that she is, Melissa has done what she could to help him explore his interest.  She took him WWOOFing in Mexico.  She has gotten involved with community gardens.  And then she dropped us a line.orion melissa homestead

We hosted Orion for two weeks, on his own. He arrived (his mother and friend brought him over and we enjoyed a sweet, brief visit) with a ukelele and small duffel bag in the thick of the weediest, sweatiest, busiest time of year.  We had no idea what to expect.  Neither myself nor my Fellow Man have spent much concentrated time with thirteen year old kids since we were thirteen years old.

The timing was good. Lulah went to Florida with some of my folks for a week, departing just as Orion arrived.  Orion softened the blow of losing her.  Without him to distract us, we would have been much more bereft.  By the time she came home, we were all getting adapted to each other.lulah florida 1

And I think we all did good.  Orion gave his best efforts.  We let him sleep (almost) as much as late as he might have otherwise.  He generally came along for the ride, pitching in every time we asked, and hanging around to ask questions.  He appreciated our food, and we found it amusing the way he held the hair out of his face to eat.  Orion became my right hand tomato-picker, an enthusiastic lawn mower, and adept at rough housing with Levon in the hammock.orion 1

orion 2orion 3I loved this moment: It was on a big harvest day, when we had packed the car full of veggies and I was hustling to get a shower and go teach yoga before making my delivery rounds.  Orion had weighed potatoes and sorted tomatoes and lugged baskets to the car, and caught  me as I headed back to the house, asking “Do you need me to do anything now?”.

“Not at the moment.” I said.

“Shucks.” was his reply.  Gotta love that.

We learned a little bit about communication while he was around.  Each family unit makes its own language over time.  It’s a reality check, of sorts, to add a new person and see if they understand the language.  A few times I was able to catch us.  My Fellow Man and I had done subtle communication about the day without laying it out in complete sentences in Orion’s presence.  I didn’t catch it a few times, too, and I’m sure he spent some time scratching his head and wondering how we get anything done.  We’re used to it.

He slept in a tent in the yard, then moved into the storage shed and slept on the massage table, which seemed like a major upgrade to him.  He tuned my guitar and sang old Grateful Dead and Beatles tunes.  He wanted to talk about rock and roll history (of which I was woefully ignorant), politics, philosophy, food, and simple living.  He was not attached to an electronic umbilical cord.  He prefers the present moment.  He is deeply devoted to his mother.  He is not your average American thirteen year old boy.  But I’m not surprised.

In Orion, I see the fruit of my friend Melissa.  I see her life, her choices playing out into another generation.  She has always been an artist, and the garden of her life is a beautiful place.  It is a delight to me to feel that our roots of our friendship still tangle enough, to this day, for her to share her boy, one of the fruits of her existence, with us.  He tested himself on our soil.  He learned a little about work, about himself, and about us.  He didn’t like the okra.  Cantaloupes are more his style.

My only regret was that we didn’t take him traveling.  This summer has proved a challenging one for that.  It would have been nice for him to see more of our local farmscapes, and meet more of our local farmers, and friends.  Hopefully, he’ll be back.  We would love to see how he grows.

It feels good to see the seeds of friendship grow into another generation.  With luck, the seeds we planted with Orion, seeds of information, and also of friendship, will grow into something altogether new in the fertile ground of his curious young mind and heart.  It will take years to see what he will plant, and grow.  Isn’t that wonderful?with orion


friends of many flavors

This time of year, friends fall easily into two neat categories.

There are Friends With Gardens (F-wigs, if you will), and there are Friends With Out Gardens (also known as F-wogs).lettuce friends

By “garden” in this context, I am referring to a vegetable garden. Flower gardens are great, but I have rarely, if ever, seen anyone work as hard in a flower garden as an annual veggie plot. What is that verse in the book of Genesis about the “sweat of your brow”? Man alive – the Almighty was not kidding.

Those of us with gardens are working hard. The rain has stopped, more or less, but the weeds are still growing. Everything is ripening and needs attention to be preserved, or enjoyed, or shared. And, if there’s to be anything fresh to eat this winter, the time to plant it is right now. The game is on.

Friends With Gardens know this. When we meet, which is fairly infrequently right now due to the work load of the season, it is understood that we are busy people. My F-wigs remind me that I’m not crazy (or at least that I could be crazier) or alone in the fact of spending all my time in the garden or the kitchen. Our conversations usually turn around the season’s doings, one way or another, either rejoicing in the abundance therein, or sympathizing with a crop failure. More often than not, we share both. Of course, there are some Friends With Gardens who seem to always be struggling with the season. And then there are other Friends who never ever admit that a growing season might be going poorly. It takes all kinds, I guess, and no matter what color glasses they wear, I am always glad to share a chat about the various way things go in the world of deep food production. I’m passionate about it, even when there’s way too much of it to do.tassel 2

Our Friends With Out Gardens, on the other hand, have very little concept about the absolute whirlwind that we are living in right now. My garden-less friends have variable responses to my food/work obsessions, ranging from respect, to befuddlement, and even dismay. Some think I must be out of my mind to live like a monkey and work like a draft horse in the middle of the sticks. Some think I am wonder-woman, churning out gourmet food with my bare hands. I can only be grateful for their praise and humble in the face of their critical concern. My Fellow Man and I have long agreed that our gardens are a hobby out of control, as well as a physical, mental, spiritual and economic enterprise. It is difficult to imagine not growing most of our own food. At the moment, it’s downright impossible. After all, it’s summer, and the tomatoes are just getting started.

For F-wogs, summer is the season of vacation and relaxation. It’s a good time to travel, maybe to the beach or the mountains, or to visit friends in the country (F-wigs, like us). A dip in the creek is worth putting up with the out-house. The shade of the forest is pleasant, and the food is spectacular. I love to see them coming. I love that they want to visit our beautiful funky scene, knowing full well that I won’t be able to get away for a visit to their place for a few months yet.southern home grown picture 1

Yes, the to-do list is so long I have to laugh about it, or else I would cry. I can be busy every moment of the day, no problem. I have used the line from one of my favorite characters in a Wendell Berry novel: “If you want to talk with me, you’re gonna have to walk.” It’s not a laid back time for us. But it’s a joyous and full time, and it can become even more so if we crack it open to share with friends.

Spending time with friends, whether they are gardeners or not, always reminds me that I am more than a woman with too much food on her hands. More than the sum of my callouses and aching back. More than even the beautiful fragrance of the new cantaloupe. I am a friend, capable of love, laughter, and listening.  Time with friends is time spent cultivating for a different harvest, a different fruit, from the Big Garden of Life. It is a nourishment for the heart and soul, which is at least as important as the belly.zinnia


right now :: mexican sour gherkins

It’s heavy duty harvest time.  There’s a constant to-do of picking, packing, and preserving.  It’s intense and hot and beautiful.  But right now, I’m loving these.  They look like little baby watermelons….mexican sour gherkins

Mexican Sour Gherkins, melothria scabra, technically speaking.  They are a relative to cucumbers, but not close enough to create an issue in our seed saving schemes.  We picked them from a seed catalog on a bit of a whim, with the kids of course.  We only have three plants, but they have covered a tomato cage, in the midst of a row of tomatillos and cherry tomatoes.  And they have borne fruit in abundance, none of it larger than the end of my thumb!

I wouldn’t grow these sweet little things for market, but for summer family snack-time – they’re a winner.

The fruit is crunchy, cucumber-y, and yes, when fully ripe, a tiny bit sour.  In the morning, before the sun begins to roast the garden, it is a great pleasure to make this tiny harvest.  If Levon doesn’t eat them all, I may make a jar of pickles from them yet!

mexican sour gherkins 2