May 31, 2016

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in my Garden.

dirty fingernails gardening

Since the winter ground has thawed, I’ve spent hours with my fingers deep in the soil, clearing out the old to make way for regrowth in the fertile beds of soil around my house.

Sweat has trickled down my face as the Midwest sun has turned up the heat in rehearsal for its summer seasonal starring role.

This is how I want to live, with dirt beneath my fingernails and a smile on my face, cultivating sustainable, beautiful and practical things out of the perfection of nature’s creation.

Last week as I weeded and dug and planted and mulched, my thoughts were elsewhere for a while. I was working out some disappointment and frustration I was feeling about being stuck in a bit of a rut in my career. I’ve been writing short stories for years now, but I know I’ve got a novel in me if I could just figure out how to find time to let it out and pay the bills while I’m doing it.

That wasn’t all of it, though. I was feeling some pain from an issue with a family member, making some big decisions about moving to another part of the city and schooling for my son, and I was also trying to navigate some new waters in my relationship.

I’d come to a stubborn conclusion, with all of these thoughts and feelings swirling in my head: I just wanted to be alone. I wanted to think and worry only about myself. It would be so much less complicated that way, I was thinking.

I was feeling all the feelings as I began digging in a bed that has held irises for the last many years. My goal for the day had been to get rid of the older growth plants that were no longer doing well, and to apportion the rest throughout other areas.

Just beneath the soil, a complicated tangle of roots and connected bulbs demanded my concentration. I was supposed to have taken care of these in the previous fall, but life happened and it hadn’t gotten done.

Clearing away the dirt, I exposed thick white clumps of rhizomes connected together, some young and healthy and others rotted and old. Earthworms danced their slow dances in the soil around them, and little insects buzzed about as I wiped a dirty hand across my sweaty face.

I examined the work before me, then paused to take in the yard around me—both the spaces I’d cultivated in my garden beds and the woods beyond its borders.

Everything around me was connected, from the bees in the honeysuckle that grows wild at the edge of the woods to the tiny drainage paths forged by spring rains that sustain life along the slope of my yard. The grass and flowers, the bugs and bunnies, everything that lives here relies on everything else to survive and thrive.

I am part of that ecosystem. I prune, weed, mow and plant much of what is here, and what I don’t get back in food or tangibles I reap in joy and a sense of groundedness each time I see the beauty of the life around me.

There is a lesson here: We are not meant to be independent; we are meant to be interdependent.

We all need each other, and that’s true of both our natural community and our human community.

We need to rely on one another, like the bees and flowers, both flourishing because of their gifts to each other.

We need to learn to let go of that which doesn’t serve us, like the old plant growth that begins to die, eventually leaving a legacy of rich organic matter so that new roots can take hold.

And, like the weeds growing through the cracks of my tarred driveway, we can overcome obstacles if we have strong enough soil beneath our feet.

With each year that goes by, I am learning more from the earth and my relationship with it than I can ever quantify with pots of flowers or numbers of vegetables.

The insects and worms, the roots and the buds, are all teachers, and the lessons they share when I choose to listen are all I need to know about what really matters in life.


Author: Amanda Christmann

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: bark/Flickr

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