I’m a gardener by nature, and have been doing so longer than I have been a chef. I love marrying the two pursuits. The temptation to plow under the remaining grass in my yard, and to cut a deal to do the same to my neighbor’s property is pretty strong, but I have to stay focused and not let my imagination get too out of hand.
When we bought this house we live in, it had a small plot sectioned off in the northwest corner of the backyard and this is the 20th year I’ve planted more than just tomatoes and peppers. In that tiny little 12’x30’farm I have sown many ideas. In doing so, I have reaped significant lessons.
Gardening is not solely about food. Its also about hope, nurture, tragedy and the occassional compensation for patient and persistent effort. Just as I used to draw inspiration from my long distance running, I glean recurring reminders about life and how it is filled with both risk and reward. Who knew a little cordoned off patch of dirt could do all that?
I physically feel better in the springtime. Maybe due to the lack of healing sunshine or of just being cooped up all winter, but at the first visible sign of life emerging from the brown layer of decaying leaf matter that looks like layers of untempered chocolate, something wakes up inside. Spring is the reminder of hope, that seasons do eventually change, regardless of how dark the winter was that came before it.
A harsh winter season struck us two years ago next month in May when the doctor discovered the tumor in Karen’s ovary. The season changed suddenly, like a rush of a cold Noreaster that swoops in with its freezing wind, turing everything green and growing into limp, mushy debris. Gratefully, we endured the season, and spring finally returned. We are enjoying the renewed life in our relationship, and are attempting to fully embrace the beauty of each day without cancer.
Cancer is a little like the pests that come in and invade the treasure of the garden. Some ask me why go through all the effort to build miniature Fort Knox – type structures to keep the rabbits and squirrels at bay. My response is to suggest keeping your keys on your dashboard so its easier to remember where you left them. You’d never do that because you don’t trust the bad guys out looking for cars to steal, and I don’t trust the damn rodents to leave my broccoli alone. You guard what is valuable to you, and the more disdain you have for that which robs you, the stronger the effort you will make to protect it.
It’s a heck of a lot easier to buy lettuce than to try and grow it yourself, but when you learn how much work it is to get food to the table, you learn to appreciate the work of the farmer and the rigors of the work that goes with growing. In addition to pests, the farmer deals with weather fluctuations, like unexpected frost that can wipe out baby seedlings, or unusually high temperatures that inhibit seed germination. Factor in the chance of damaging hailstorms or washout due to excessive rains. Add blight, rust and every other fungus you can think of, and then you start to get a picture of the exigent process.
Everyone needs to learn how to take care of something. Growing a garden teaches this lesson of nurture.. A problem of youth today is that they have little that demands anything of them. Consider the amount of money spent on entertainment for no other purpose other than to assuage boredom. My dad grew roses, hundreds of them, because they needed his care in order to display their full beauty. “Everyone needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning.” he said to me often. In his retirement years, his hobby did more for him than just pass the time. It put a smile on his face, and of those who visited his rose garden.