Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Honesty... Is Such a Lonely Word

Nature is a great teacher, and a garden is her classroom.  I suppose a mountain would be a classroom for a climber, a reef for a diver, and so on.  In any case, it is all Nature, and we are her students.  As with any great teacher, she uses a particular subject, be it trigonometry, grammar, or gardening, to teach life lessons.  Soil conditions, watering, choosing seeds, and what to do about a blight might be the topics, but underneath all that are patience, discipline, faith, honesty, and how to cope with disappointment.  And, the better student I can be, the more I see how intertwined are these lessons from my 10-square-foot patch, as well as how learning these virtues is the fastest way to success in the discipline at hand.
(a tiny pumpkin, just beginning)

Perhaps it's a throwback to my own back-to-school days. (I just received an invitation to my high school reunion, by the way - I won't say which year!) Or, perhaps it's a reaction to the build-up and recession of the 9/11 anniversary and the desire to start my life again on September 12th each year.  Whatever the impetus, fall feels like a new beginning to me and a time to learn with a fresh, open mind and a renewed earnestness.

As much as I'd love to catechize, I am not the teacher but the student.  And, I am learning so very much.
(the garden expansion.  it's a blank slate, kinda like me.)

I must be honest with myself if I am to grow a darned thing! Are the tomatoes blighted because there's been too much rain, or because I do not have them in a properly draining pot?  Are the pumpkin vines taking over the garden but refusing to produce any fruit because pumpkins are simply fussy, or because they are essentially growing in mulch and not getting enough soil nutrition?  Are the carrots straight and bright because they are inherently able to withstand compacted soil, or because I actually spent the time to prepare a bed that was deep and soft enough for them?
(the tomatoes are doing okay, but the acorn squash have faltered.)

What have I done well, and where have I fallen short?  If I fail to see the mistakes I've made, I will certainly repeat them and end up with tough, bitter lettuces in my salad.  Or no salad at all. If I blame the acorn squash without taking responsibility for my part in its stunted growth, I will likely never enjoy its sweetness...  Unless I buy one that some other successful gardener produced for me.  (That's enabling, in my opinion, but I'll save that for another post.)  This isn't judgement of my quality as a gardener or as a person; It's just honesty.

Patience is a virtue, as we all know, and there is no place better to practice it than in a garden.  No matter how many times I inspect those peppers, they are not going to grow any faster.  Oh, they'd be fast and large with a bit of chemical fertilizer, but they'd also be bland and would leave me feeling cheap and empty.  No, sometimes, I just have to wait.
(bell pepper buds)

And, sometimes I wait indefinitely and... nothing.  I face defeat and disappointment.  Sometimes, I'm just not going to get what I want no matter how long I wait or how hard I try to coax it out of the ground.  I suppose I could get all infuriated at those stubborn potatoes.  I could curse and turn myself red and shake my fists.  I could tear up the ground or weep.  I could go back to blaming the stupid weather - something that feels good in the moment but guarantees continued failure.

I could also take a deep breath and inhale the freshness of the dew on the cabbages.  And, when I'm calm again, I could dig down deep enough to discover the rocks and debris below the pretty, superficial topsoil.

Oh, sure.  The kids might go in there and knock something over or a mole might get in and munch the root vegetables.  A hurricane did actually hit!  But it doesn't help to curse at the wind.  Maybe if I spend more time showing those kids how to treat the stalks gently...

Yes, this is metaphor, folks.  A little trite, but nonetheless true.

Chances are, I can always look to myself for a solution, even when there is a confluence of events beyond my control.  I just ask myself what my own part might be.  If I'm honest and patient and hard-working, if I enjoy the successes and bear the failures, then I will be rewarded with a gold star in the corner of my paper.  Or a big bowl of bush beans.

In the words of Billy Joel, Honesty is such a lonely wo-ord.  It is lonely sometimes to take responsibility, to be honest, in a world that seems to be built on deflecting blame and stealing credit.  But, there's no room for that nonsense in a garden.  I go to my classroom, especially in autumn, and my teacher pats me gently and knowingly on the back and says, I am here with you and I will help you learn.  Let's start with these cucumbers...

I wish today for patience and to look to myself, not just in the garden but in life.

I am thankful for all great teachers.

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