Saturday, May 25, 2013

Set Free -- or at least Set Out

Just last Sunday the Children’s Sermon featured a small bicycle with training wheels, and focused on the guiding and protective care of parents who must eventually detach those extra wheels.  For just over 10 weeks now I have been tending seedlings in the greenhouse -- managing, as best I could, the temperature and moisture and light.  Some withered under my ministrations, but most grew in stature and depth and girth.  This week I finally got them into the ground -- tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and eggplants, lettuces and herbs plus a flower or two.  Over the past week I had been spreading and covering the seeds, but these toddler plants I continued to nurture and protect in their controlled environment.  

But they had begun to chaff at their confinement.  Stems and leaves that only days ago had looked vibrant and virile now seemed to languish in their cells -- not quite wilting, but despondent; as though weary from running into walls.  I am not so old that I couldn't remember the feeling.  It was time to kick them out of the nest.  

By week’s end they had all been transplanted -- freed from their cups and given over to their innate capacities.  And all the good and evil that await them.

The depths of soil.
The movement of wind.
The nourishment of rain.
The crowding and predations of other creatures struggling to survive.

The training wheels are off.  Foreshadowing the inevitable bumps and scrapes, pea-sized hail peppered that first exposed evening.  Yesterday we chased out an interloping rabbit, and this morning the thunder is slinging down the rain -- the first of several days of forecasted rain. Who knows if it will prove too much?

Gardening is a lot like parenting I have heard others say -- the intrinsic tension between protecting and setting free -- and I feel that conflicted twinge of parental apprehension.  There is, after all, a certain security in the greenhouse, but those 2-inch birthing boxes do not lend themselves to bearing fruit.  They can't stay protected --confined -- forever.

And now it is accomplished.  There is still a part for me to play -- weeding, trussing, feeding on occasion and managing the moisture -- but the real work, moving forward, is up to them.  Any fruit will be up to them, and the growing season is barely begun.

Outside, the plants already look somehow healthier; stronger, despite the perils of their first days in the elements -- or because of them.  It’s too early to know what is happening with the seeds, but as for the seedlings, the transplanted children of winter nurture, they -- we -- are off to a good start.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Just a Little Help Loosening Up

Though there hasn’t been measurable precipitation now in several days, my work boots kicked up sprays of dew trudging out to the garden early this morning.  Days have been warming, but the nights remain cool and heavy.  That, and the ground is saturated.  it has been difficult to get much cultivating done this year in preparation for the seedlings and seeds.  Perhaps it was the last gasp of winter, last week’s bonus snow fall, but I'll not wager too heavily on that “last” part. It’s not even Mother’s Day; who knows what yet could meteorologically happen?  As some measure of my optimism, however, I did return the snow shovel yesterday to its hook in the garage. 

Anxious to seize this interruption of good weather, I grabbed the broad-fork and opened the fence.  I had managed to till several of the trenches last week before the weather reverted, but there is still much to do.  I concentrated yesterday's available time on mixing up and distributing the organic fertilizer.  Today more muscles would be required.  After bumping into descriptions and recommendations in my readings for over a year now, this winter I took the plunge and ordered my own broad-fork -- a very old, perhaps even ancient, completely manual farming implement designed to deeply loosen the soil.  With its two sturdy handles and claw-like tines, the tool reaches down 14-inches, well below the churning capacity of a power tiller without turning the soil’s basic architecture into a homogenized soup like the tiller. 

But did I mention that it is completely manual?  As in its only power comes from the upper body of the user.  So, in other words, it’s work.  Basic, old-fashioned, physical work -- the kind that makes you sleep well at night, at least after the ibuprofen has kicked in. 

But I rather enjoy the effort.  I can see what I have accomplished, I can comprehend and appreciate the intended value, and it feels at least symbolically like, with all this loosening, I am doing something redemptive.  After all, the whole world is uptight, not just my garden.  Neighbors and families, faith communities and governing bodies -- indeed whole nations -- have become so hyper-sphinctered it’s no wonder we pinball through our days intellectually and emotionally and morally and politically and militarily flipping and colliding without ever really connecting.  We are packed and wound so tight.

A couple of hours later and I have forked all but six of my garden rows.  There is much more work to do, but though I have more time, my strength is spent.  Washing the accumulated mud from the tines, I feel some satisfaction at the good I have contributed and the potential for growth and fruit I have encouraged, sore muscles notwithstanding.  And prying off my dew-wet boots to go inside, I can't help wondering what the broad-fork equivalent might be for Congress and the rest of us who could similarly use a little loosening up.