Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Zen of Gardening

It’s that time of year to start preparing my garden for planting. When I was growing up, a garden was my mother’s way to get me out of the house. Gardening is still one of my favorite activities to do outside, something I also hope to pass on to my children. I’ve always wanted one of those monster gardens that you see in people’s yards, a half acre and pristinely kept with rows of every garden staple imaginable – corn, tomatoes, squash, okra, and beans. The first year my wife and I had a house with a yard I tried that, but found with a newborn daughter to take care of at the same time the task was too much, especially with the virulent weeds that seem to spring from nowhere. Then I came to realize that those folks that planted the half-acre garden were retired, thus explains the extra time they have to take care of them.
Before my daughter was old enough to walk, I had her out in the garden. I would let her pick cherry tomatoes and gnaw on them with her little half-grown front teeth. Last year I let her plant her own garden and pick the seeds at the hardware store. She chose yellow and red sunflowers and tomatoes. This year, at my wife’s request, I have scaled down my garden further to one patch of ground about 12 feet by 12 feet behind the woodshed, so that my time will not be divided between gardening and our newborn son. My daughter and I are sharing the spot, and have decided to plant nothing but tomatoes – the usual steak and cherry tomatoes, but also some heirloom varieties (one of them grows yellow with green stripes and another turns deep purple when ripe).
There are those moments when parents wonder if anything they are doing to raise their children is working. Then there are those Zen moments, when out of the blue your child does something right without being asked or given instructions. I brought my daughter outside today to help me pull weeds. I expected her to maybe pull a few weeds or scratch around with her red plastic toy rake. Instead, she began loading her little Radio Flyer wheel barrow up with piles of weeds I had previously pulled. “Where do I dump these, Daddy?” She asked. I pointed down to the edge of the woods, and from there she did the rest all herself. Occasionally she would say to me, “This is hard work,” as she hauled off another pile of weeds, but the smile on her face as she did it just filled me with more joy than if I had grown a whole produce market on my own.
Maybe one day she will think I’m old-fashioned, and my taste in music is out of date, and she will want to do everything opposite of what I taught her. But perhaps some things will stick, like the joy of getting your hands dirty, creating life from dirt, or just the enjoyment of doing something with her dad. As long as she likes tomatoes, maybe some things will remain.

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