Lessons from my Garden

29 06 2016

This summer began with a new development in my home garden: after the first few years of shade-gardening with native plants, a light-gap has opened in the woods from a tree falling last year, allowing me to finally pursue a dream of vegetables. My husband and I put in the small, square raised bed; I planted a modest selection of tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper plants; and we fenced it in for protection from ever-present, hungry wildlife.

The first lesson I am confronting is patience.

I believe the seemingly contradictory qualities of impatience and distraction are responsible for my long history of a black thumb. Sometimes I smother my plants with eager watering and prodding; other times, I forget my charges, and they wither from neglect. I have begun to see that vegetables are delicate; if I want any kind of yield, I have to be diligent but not clingy.

Still, as I water them daily, I purse my lips and examine the stalks (gently!) for signs of new flowers.

I also have newfound gratitude for rain. I have always loved rainy days almost more than sunny ones, but rain takes on new meaning now, a direct sign of divine providence. “No need to water today!” I think, with a sigh of contended relief. It’s work lugging the big watering can up to the light gap, far from the hose’s reach.

All this watering gives me greater respect than ever for our crops’ tremendous strain on resources. Just seeing the daily amount my four plants require easily paints a picture in my mind of that amount magnified across our groaning planet. And it occurs to me that all of us, whether omnivore or carnivore, vegetarian or vegan, should be humbled by what it takes to provide for our needs on a daily basis.

Who knew such lessons await in such humble, green places?

Suddenly, Wildlife!

26 06 2011

Ghost Crab, Assateague Island

You could be in the middle of the city, or a jungle, or a suburban jungle of lawns and sprinklers. Wherever you are, suddenly the animal, utterly different from your world, appears on the scene. For that moment, your worlds are one and the same, and you feel awe.

I hope you’ve been there. If not, here’s how.

Finding wildlife is about three basic principles:

  1. Be Still. To see animals you must not move so much. If  you fidget like me, you’ll understand why this is number 1. Try simply sitting somewhere, anywhere, and . . .
  2. Watch.  You might think this goes without saying, but really, when was the last time you watched something other than people or cars go by? Keep your eyes open to everything new and potentially interesting. Of course, you can help this along if you strive to . . .
  3. Be Present. A certain wildlife biologist I know quite well is excellent at being in the moment, and I suspect that’s why he sees most everything before I do. This is also why I have to be obnoxious about it when I do see something first, of course.

I have had birds, rodents, and deer virtually ignore my presence. Once, while walking down a mysterious path at dusk, I came face to face with a porcupine doing the same. We stared at each other breathlessly for several minutes before he broke the tension and walked off. I will never forget the floating moment when we both felt the same fear and, if I can extend your imagination, the same exhilaration at the unexpected encounter.

Hey, it could be true. The point is, experiences are as magical and meaningful as you make them. Another time, in a perfect garden and also at dusk, a dragonfly hovered gently above my head. I’d like to think we were on a similarly Zen wavelength in that moment. I do know for certain that we shared the same beautiful garden on the same beautiful night.

What are your sudden nature encounters?

Summer Joys

19 06 2011

I’m back! Is anyone out there?

Well, whether you are or you aren’t, I’m here and ready to share more Greening  Tree tidbits with you. Watch the blog for continued changes!


Summer is upon us, and the solstice will soon make it official. While I’m not a fan of high temps, I do love many of the pleasures that derive their significance from this fleeting season:

  • An ice-cold drink on the patio.
  • Exultant bird song from early in the morning until long after the sun retires.
  • The lazy pace of everything – our western culture’s nod to seizing the season.
  • Farmer’s markets loaded with brilliant colors and interesting shapes.
  • The way the outdoors becomes our second home.

During the workweek, I take a moment to look out the window and smile upon the world outside. It will be ready to greet me at 5 o’clock, and I want to make sure I’m ready to greet it!

This week, why not:

  • Try a new fruit.
  • Stroll in your neighborhood.
  • Notice an insect and the way it lives.
  • Take an impromptu trip to a park – hike, play ball, picnic, and bask in this friendly season!

Autumn Pastimes

17 11 2010
Macro pinecone

Image via Wikipedia

If you grew up in a temperate region, you had leaves falling at this time of year. Do you remember jumping in the leaves? Do you remember raking up the leaves into the biggest pile you could, only for the reward of jumping headlong into their earthy mystery?

Perhaps you didn’t have leaves, but you loved collecting pine cones.  You’d bring them inside and show an adult, as proud as if you had made them yourself. Or maybe  you played football every Thanksgiving, reveling in the crisp air and muddy ground.

Harvest time, no matter where you live, has magical powers. If you don’t believe this,  you may need to spend more time remembering how it used to be. Once you’ve done that, pick an activity and help encourage a child who may not know what wonders await outside, even as the days grow shorter.

Rake the leaves, even if you know you’ll have to do it again later. Glue some leaves together into beautiful placemats. Pick up the pine cones, and proudly display them on your Thanksgiving mantle. Head out for some football and return, out of breath, with rosy cheeks.

Seasonal pastimes are as close as your memories.

Why Backpacking?

4 11 2010

Me, hiking PA's West Rim Trail

Two Sundays ago, I returned from a real-life adventure. There were glorious views and aching feet, midnight snow and evening rain, critter encounters and an injury. This adventure only took a few days and cost relatively little, but it plucked my husband and I out of our comfortable lives and immersed us more fully in our own survival. We went backpacking.

Some may ask why we would endure weather extremes, freeze-dried food, sleeping on the ground, and muscle pains. The truth is, there is a moment during every trip when even a seasoned backpacker asks themselves the same questions. However, the payoffs are legendary; just ask John Muir, hiker extraordinaire and father of the American park system. He exhorts us to “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

Yes, it is good to “break clear away,” to work for your vistas and waterfalls, and for your comfort at day’s end. To build a fire – especially when it is hard to do. To have your breath taken away by the sight of something no person could make. To realize that all you need to survive you can haul on your back, and that all the stuff back at home is just window-dressing. And to know that you are blessed with lungs, senses, and thoughts, and that all of these things cost nothing at all.

That is why I go backpacking.

Green 2.0: Seasonal Joys

13 10 2010

I can’t fool you: we are talking about pleasures again. I just got tired of writing the word.

Although you’ve probably heard it before, it’s true as can be: in our industrialized society, it can be hard to feel at home in our natural surroundings, which are essentially the seasons. If we are unpracticed in the art of savoring each season’s joys, we may focus only on its sorrows. Spring is muddy; summer, hot; autumn gloomy; winter . . . well, you know all about that if you live north of Florida.

The poet Thoreau once said, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” So much of our struggle with nature – and I do include myself – is the feeling that we must be in control. That we must rage against the dying of the light, to quote another poet. What travelers tend to find so quaint about indigenous peoples is really their joyful resignation to the influences – good and otherwise – of their world. Natives know how to navigate nature and find the best in it because they live in it – and with it.

We can learn this. It must be a gentle courtship. Buy some of the season’s fruits at a farm stand. Make a recipe with seasonal ingredients (try About.com’s Local Foods). Or simply sit outside, in any weather, for just a few minutes. See how the light is different than three months ago.

What are your seasonal joys?

Green 2.0: Nature at Warp Speed

29 09 2010

Perhaps you don’t move at warp speed, but grant me this: we move a lot nowadays. There are always things to do, some of our own creation. This can make it seemingly difficult to reconnect with nature. What’s a busy person to do?

Try some of these mini-activities on for size during your next road trip, or even as you jet about your day-to-day. Think of them as adult versions of “Eye Spy” – with a double-shot espresso.

  • Something old. Check out a view you pass every day and challenge yourself to find something new about your same-old surroundings. Hey, when did that nest get there?
  • Train window. As you commute on the light-rail or drive to work (use caution people), ponder what makes the landscape unique in all the world.
  • A bird in the hand . . . Birds are literally everywhere. In fact, they may be the most accessible wildlife. Take a moment to watch any bird today. Bonus points if it’s a dirty, commonplace-looking one. Also bonus points if it’s a rare find – go look it up!
  • Mud pies. You may need to swallow some pride and look both ways, but it’s worth it. Stoop or sit on the ground in your backyard (or somewhere secluded in a park) and dig a small hole. Be fascinated by dirt again, if only for a few moments. Are there any tiny creatures? If you do this in your front yard, I cannot guarantee you won’t get strange looks.

And finally . . .

  • Just breathe. Every guru of every meditative, therapeutic art will tell you this because it’s the most simple healing magic anywhere. It can’t be beat. Stop where you are, with all of your bags, and take a few deep breaths. Look around and smile. Doesn’t that feel great?

Now, on your way!

%d bloggers like this: