The Seeds of Spring BLOG

Lessons From the Garden

Averting a National Shutdown August 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 6:47 pm

The Seeds of Spring Blog has just learned that Stephen Strasburg, the phenomenal baseball pitcher for the Washington Nationals, will not be shut down in September. Repeat: Will not be shut down! Remember, you read it here first.

Sources close to someone who claims to have knowledge of sources close to someone who knows Strasburg tell this writer that there are several contingency plans under consideration, despite the consistent and firm statements to the contrary from the general manager and manager of the Nationals, who have the best record in Major League Baseball. These sources, who insisted on anonymity, say the details are still being worked out.

Unless you have lived under a rock for the past year or have no interest in baseball, you know that one of the big sports stories of the year has been the plan to have Strasburg stop pitching sometime in September. Barely a year removed from Tommy John Surgery, which involves an elbow ligament transplant, Strasburg is being shut down in an effort to prevent further injury to his powerful right arm, which is responsible for the fastest average pitch among starting pitchers in the known universe.

[Interesting fact: The first player to have Tommy John Surgery was a pitcher named … Tommy John! What are the odds of that?]

But with the Nationals facing a great chance of making the playoffs in 2012, the prospect of shutting him down right before the postseason has prompted almost unprecedented angst inside the Washington Beltway. Even crusty, world-weary political operatives who don’t even blink at the prospect of a government shutdown have been known to sob uncontrollably at just the sight or mention of the Nationals’ Number 37.

The five scenarios for keeping Strasburg in the game go by the following secret code names, as related exclusively to the Seeds of Spring Blog:

 

THE DISGUISE

This might be the simplest and cheapest of the five. On his off days, Strasburg has been seen frequenting The Spy Museum and certain shops in D.C. that sell theatrical costumes and other disguises. His roommate would not deny that he has seen Stephen modeling fake beards, wigs, glasses and even dresses—not that there’s anything wrong with that—in an effort to take on the appearance of someone else.

“If he shows up in the clubhouse in disguise, he can claim to be Fred Jones or some other minor league call-up from Frederick or Hagerstown,” one source said after being plied with a couple of shots of cheap gin. “Once he gets in a couple of games and Davey [Manager Davey Johnson] sees how well he’s throwing, he’ll probably get a few starting assignments, and he’ll be off to the races.”

THE MISDIRECTION

The odds of success for this scenario are a little lower. But it goes like this: Strasburg and his agent try to persuade Johnson and the team’s brass that it was John Lannan or Henry Rodriguez or some other pitcher who’s in the minors or on the disabled list who had the Tommy John Surgery, not Strasburg. “Hey, there are 40 guys on the 40-man roster,” noted our source. “There’s bound to be some confusion. And even if the manager or general manager suspects that this is a little deceptive, it gives them cover to do what they really want to do—which is to let Stephen pitch.”

 

THE SCALPEL

Plastic surgery is quick and painless. Why not try it on Strasburg? That scruffy little beard has got to go anyway, and the ears could use a bit of a trim. Might as well rearrange some of the facial furniture—with the input of his wife, of course. We’ll need to come up with a new name to get him through the postseason, of course. Who knows—maybe it could even be reversible during the off season.

 

THE COPYCAT

My sources were a little short on details about this option, but the theory goes like this: Back when Strasburg was taken as the top draft pick in 2009, he had to undergo a thorough physical exam before the Nats agreed to sign him and give him that big signing bonus. Surely, during this exam there were skin cells or swabs of fluids taken—enough to capture his DNA and replicate him. Yes, they have had about three years to clone Stephen Strasburg. A tight timeline, admittedly, but such a clone would not have even had the elbow surgery and should be in even better position to fire 98-mph bullets past flailing hitters.

Of course, we would have to hide the “original” Strasburg for a few months. Area 54, or someplace secure like that. Fix him up with a big-screen TV and lots of chips and dip. It could happen.

 

TIME FLIES

This one’s a stretch, too. But no plan should be discarded out of hand when something as vital to our emotional wellbeing is at stake. We’re talking very limited, very controlled time travel. Reach about 14 months into the future, and bring the Strasburg of December 2013 back to October 2012 and have him pitch with an extra year of recovery. After all, he won’t need to be throwing baseballs in December 2013.

“It can’t work,” you say. “There are no time machines.” “Time travel is impossible.”

Well, that’s just the kind of negative thinking that brought us disasters like the financial crisis of 2008 and most reality TV shows. I mean, someday someone will invent a time machine. Give those crazy scientists enough time and money, and tell them to stop trying to find meaningless subatomic particles with those cyclotrons and whatever machines that cost billions of dollars and are hidden under Swiss mountains. They’ll come up with a time machine eventually. Then they’ll use time travel to send it back to us because, as they will realize with the perspective of time, no need ever was or will be greater than that of the Washington Nationals in 2012.

Case closed. It will happen.

There is one other scenario, though my sources would neither confirm nor deny it. Using holograms or just good 3D graphics, the team could project a fake Stephen Strasburg warming up in the Nationals’ bullpen during a close game. Watch the manager and players in the other dugout freak out and totally botch the game. Heck, they might even forfeit.

Next week, we’ll return the Seeds of Spring Blog to its regular programming. Until then, Go Nats!

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Monsters August 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 5:55 pm

When I was very young, my father assured me regularly that there were no monsters hiding under my bed or in my closet.

While that might have been true at the time, it’s no longer the case. There are monsters all around us. We don’t know exactly where they are or what they will do or when they will do it. What we do know is what they look like.

They look like you and me.

In a way, they are worse than the imagined monsters of our childhoods. Those, we knew, were indiscriminate. They sought opportunities, captured or consumed whoever happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t recall how many times I watched Tokyo being flattened by legendary behemoths rising from the sea or hatching in remote mountains—just because the city was right there for the stomping.

Back on U.S. soil, we were sure that ghosts haunted the occasional old, boarded-up house. And we tried to stay away from these places, except perhaps on Halloween.

We kept a nightlight burning in our bedrooms until we were absolutely sure that that worrisome noise in the closet was just our imagination. And we could identify, or at least picture in our minds, many of the bad guys. Our teachers warned us about talking to strangers offering candy or a ride home. It seemed like we, and our parents and teachers, could see trouble coming from a mile away.

Sure, some bad things happened, but it generally seemed like these were relatively rare and random. Until the sixties, anyway, with the Kennedys and King.

Still, we had heroes back in those days. Superman and Batman. Our friendly local cops and firefighters. Even Lassie saved the day now and then. There was a sense that justice would prevail and that evil would be dealt with.

Today, evil springs forth from any house on any street, without warning, without shame. A Michael Page blows away peace-loving Sikhs in Milwaukee, including a priest who recently came to the U.S. A Jared Lee Loughner opens fire on a member of Congress and other innocent people spending their Saturday at a shopping center. A James Holmes carries assault weapons into a movie theater full of people seeking only a little fun late one evening, leaving a scene of unimaginable carnage. A Seung-Hui Cho blows away 32 people at Virginia Tech during a two-hour rampage. In Norway, an Anders Behring Breivik engineers two attacks that claim 77 souls in a single day. Fifteen perish at Columbine High School. One hundred and sixty-eight die in Oklahoma City. And, of course, 911 is imprinted permanently on the minds of everyone old enough to vote. On and on the slaughter spreads.

Insanity might explain some of it, maybe most of it. But there’s an undercurrent that cannot be denied.

The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was just the start of a series of senseless killings.

It’s hate. These people hate. They hate me. They hate you. They hate people different from themselves. They hate people like themselves.

So much hate. Why? Can anyone tell me why?

What has changed in our country, in our civilization? Or has the hate always been there, under the surface?

I would like to know where this hate comes from, how we can begin to understand it, how we can dare to hope to minimize it or change it. Is it the other side of fear? Is it just a product of ignorance?

I would like to believe that incidents of hate-fueled mayhem are cyclical, that after so much bloodshed in recent months we can anticipate a period of reduced violence, of greater restraint, of renewed confidence that our world is for the most part a good and safe place.

But I have no evidence on which to base that hope.

The family is still the backbone of life in the U.S. and the rest of the civilized world, but it seems like it’s not enough. So we go about our daily lives inured to the dangers. We hunker down, hoping that the odds of the evil striking us are still long. After all, there are so many threats—terrorism, plane crashes, natural disasters—that we drive ourselves crazy with anxiety if we deal with them all the time, front and center. If we live in fear, the monsters win.

But there are times, particularly when the evil seems unabated, that we must ask ourselves: What more can we do?

I’m largely at a loss. For the moment, my best thought is that each of us can set an example, an example of living our lives with at least some measure of grace and dignity and respect for ourselves and for others.

I choose to tend a garden. That’s my contribution, my example. It’s a peaceful pursuit. It’s a small thing–a terribly small thing and a terribly inadequate thing. But it’s a start.

You might choose a different contribution. It really doesn’t matter what it is. But please, try something. Hug your children a little tighter. Say hello to your neighbor when you pick up your morning paper. Thank your waiter or letter carrier for exemplary service. Smile now and again.

We can’t conquer hate. But we can choose to rise above it, to diminish the monsters in our midst just a tiny amount every single day by the sheer force of our wills.

 

In Real Time July 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 8:13 pm

My grandfather had a saying: “After the Fourth of July, the summer is over.” When I was a kid, my brothers and I would chuckle at his annual commentary, but he was quite serious. To us, summer was endless, especially when visiting my grandparents in Philadelphia, going to the beach, collecting and trading baseball cards, and playing stickball in the alley behind their brownstone house.

Every summer, I think of that observation. Surely the season is just beginning after the Fourth. School has been out for only about three weeks, for some young people. Lots of time to just soak in the sunshine and whatever freedom the summer brings.

And, these days, once in a while, I wonder whether he was right.

I think what he was trying to say was something like this: It gets hot. We hunker down, waiting for milder weather. At times, we are really busy, traveling or going to sporting events or even enjoying some time at the beach—lots of activities that change our routines and, by extension, change our routine conception of time. Before you know it, you’re facing down those awful “back to school” ads on TV and in the stores. Suddenly, it’s September.

Pokeweed has infested my asparagus patch. Bermuda grass has inundated much of the rest of the plot.

Beginning to approach the age at which my grandfather made his sobering assessment of summer, I am determined not to fall into the trap he described. My effort to maintain my sense that the summer should get its full measure is assisted by a career change that finds me working from home. No more 90-minute commute in the morning. No more 90-minute commute in the evening. Instead, I try to get out on the W&OD trail early in the morning. I bring plenty of water. I walk for miles, occasionally singing (horribly) to the tunes on my Ipod. I marvel at the incremental change in the wildflowers, and berries, along the trail. I soak in not just the warmth, but also the moments, that make up a summer’s morning. Upon my return, I start my work day in an energized way.

In my garden, a change no less significant has occurred. Having been routed from my beloved garden plot this past spring by tens of thousands of angry bees, I am making only occasional visits to my plot, which is just one mile away from my home. My work there consists of triage weeding. The place is a disaster. After being stung incessantly during the spring and eventually chased out by the massive swarm of bees, I stayed away for five or six weeks. When next I set foot in the garden, my heart sank at the sight of towering weeds all over the place.

Usually manicured to be virtually free of any weed visible to the naked eye—save for clusters of nasty Bermuda grass and a few other invaders that had integrated themselves into the base of the fence—my garden plot had almost returned to nature. Wild, massive and thoroughly entrenched weeds soared three feet and more into the air. How could anything—even weeds—take over so completely in such a short time?

The answer: Time moves differently in the garden. Weeds act like they are on steroids, while our “good” crops lag behind miserably. It takes only a few missed weekends to undo a decade of patient, determined weeding.

In better days, weeds never stayed around for long.

Now that John, the owner of the farm where I garden, is in the process of moving some of his bee hives some distance from my garden plot, I can visit a little more frequently and stay a little longer. But I am barely keeping up with the weeds. It might take two or three YEARS to catch up. If I ever do. Frankly, some of the knotted weeds on both sides of the fence line are so well entrenched that I cannot eliminate them without burning them—which would destroy the fence—or using chemical defoliants. The latter option is completely unacceptable for an organic gardener.

I am facing a legacy of permanent weed infestation on the edges of my plot and long-term infestation in the rows and beds. A few weeks of the oh-so-short summer have left an apparently permanent scar on my garden. I will have many long weeks, months and years to experience remorse for a brief absence from my duties. It doesn’t matter that I had a good reason for bailing out when I did: It was a life-threatening situation. Hell is always in a hurry.

Einstein was right: Everything is relative. Time, distance, energy. Summer is the biggest anomaly: In some ways it drags, in other ways it flies by. I hope your summer does not pass you by, particularly if you love the season as much as I do.

 

One Life to Live July 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 2:32 pm

I returned recently from a six-day business trip to find my zinnias in a state of severe dehydration. Two looked like they were dead.

Immediately, I watered them heavily, even though it was the middle of the afternoon and the mercury was pushing triple digits. The worst-looking plants perked up a little within an hour. But some of the top growth was brown and curled up—a sure sign of irreversible damage.

Somehow, over the next few days, feeding and watering nursed the plants back to the land of the living. Now, all of them look like they will survive the summer. Even an unexpected and powerful derecho—that long, straight-line storm with rain and winds topping 80 miles per hour in places that wiped out power to more than 1 million people in my area–couldn’t finish them off.

This zinnia nearly croaked.

I am feeling less guilty about the neglect that nearly croaked these plants—four zinnias in a small raised bed against my neighbor’s fence. Losing even one would destroy the symmetry of the bed. But it would do even greater damage to my psyche. After all, the four raised beds I’m using for the first time this year around my house are the extent of my gardening this summer. After being chased out of my regular garden on a neighbor’s property by a massive onslaught of angry bees, eight flowers, three tomatoes, two peppers, one basil and a small bed of beans are all that I’ve got, and the experiment might yet fail for lack of sunlight. At best, the beds get four and a half hours of sun a day. Nothing is guaranteed. Each plant is—as the ad says—priceless.

I made a crucial mistake in setting up these beds. A half truckload of dirt arrived in my driveway on a Thursday. The cedar planks for the raised beds arrived the next day. So I spent much of the weekend building the beds, filling them with dirt, dropping in a few seeds and plants, and cleaning up the driveway. (That involved finding places to put hundreds of pounds of excess soil. If you come over to my house, please don’t open doors to pantry, closets or the basement without checking with me first.) I didn’t feel that I had time to prepare the ground upon which I placed the new beds.

Placing soil on top of an existing lawn is a lazy way to garden. I should have dug up and mashed up the sod. Or I should have removed it and dug up the subsoil and worked in compost and all that good stuff we know we are supposed to do when building a garden from scratch. But I had just the weekend, and it was hot, and yadda yadda yadda. I built the beds on top of the lawn and crossed my fingers.

The upshot, you no doubt have deduced, is that my so-called planting beds are not much more than elaborate pots or planters. Their watering needs are much greater than typical raised beds. Being away for six days—even though it rained a bit during my absence—wasn’t good. I thought that the fact that the beds get so little sun would limit the damage. Wrong.

But so what, you might ask. It’s a couple of zinnias. Really only one plant was in mortal danger. Zinnias are a dime a dozen. Or maybe even a nickel a dozen.

No one can see the zinnia bed from the neighbor’s house, from anywhere in my house, from the street. Maybe Google Earth might show a tiny image of it for some really bored web surfer. It’s practically invisible. If a zinnia falls in the suburbs, does it make a sound? Does anybody care?

Yes. I do. And not just because I planted it, or because it’s “mine”.

Daylillies never seem to be bothered by hot, dry weather.

It’s alive. And it deserves to remain so.

But at what cost, you might ask. Would I, for example, set my alarm to get up at 3 a.m. every night to water it—if that’s what it needed to stay alive? I’m not sure. How about setting the alarm for 1, 3 and 5 a.m. every night? Very unlikely. Where does one draw the line? How much is a life worth?

Well, a zinnia isn’t a person, or even a pet, you might argue. And many, if not most, people would agree with you. We put a very high value of people’s lives. Especially people we love. And people we know. And some people we don’t know but would like to know. Or have heard of. Or never heard of.

That woman who survived flesh-eating bacteria after a zip line accident: We were all happy to see her survive and go home, even though she lost limbs to the rare disease. That was clearly a life worth saving. But, just for the sake of argument, what if we had to expend the same amount of money and medical attention to save Jerry Sandusky, the convicted child abuser? Another human life. Is it as valuable as the life of the bacteria victim?

This math gets even more complicated when politics is involved. Consider the innocent women and children being slaughtered every week in Syria. The world did not stand by idly for long when such mayhem was being committed in Libya. But Syria is more—complicated. So we watch as U.N. peacekeepers fail to make progress. We wring our hands. And, ultimately, we turn away because we cannot intervene without setting off a massive international reaction that ultimately would lead to even more deaths. Perhaps subconsciously we have justified this terrible calculus as the lesser of evils. But lives—lives we value—are being lost every day.

How about a dog? How much is a dog’s life worth? A man put himself in mortal danger the other evening to save a dog that had become stranded on the side of a steep, tall cliff. Would you do the same? How about for a cat? Or a hamster? Or a pet gecko?

Now, your prized rose bush, or my six-foot-tall heirloom tomato plant, might be worth saving, too. But what about a few bean plants? Or a single zinnia?

These planting beds were created on top of sod.

I won’t try to persuade you that you should devote your life to saving the whales, or to empty your bank account to preserve a rare orchid threatened by development in South America, or my zinnia. Everyone has to make their own choices. I choose to kill weeds every day. I can justify that action because it saves “good” plants, like my flowers. Still, every now and again it troubles me. We are never as pure as we claim to be.

You’ve heard the term “vegetative state” to describe people who have no cognitive ability, who are “brain dead” according to medical science. Yet some such people are later found to have been somewhat alert. And legitimate research has found that some plants are able to “communicate” with other plants and to “remember” certain events, at least in a primitive way. I, for one, am not going to buy in to the belief that plants are totally unthinking, unfeeling tissue.

I have tried to live my life with dignity and with respect for everyone, and everything, that is alive. I have not done as well at it as I would like. I would like to think that simply trying to do so is important, is good. So I’ll give myself an “incomplete” grade on this count. More work to do.

Yet, still, I cannot answer the question: What is a life worth? If you can add some insight or perspective, I’d love to hear it.

 

Time Lapse June 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 4:38 pm

My first tomato is nearly the size of a 50-cent piece. That’s not particularly big for the second half of June. I don’t mind. Having anything to show for my experiment in low-light backyard gardening this year is encouraging. Having been chased out of my long-time garden by thousands of angry bees, I’m making do with four raised beds in extremely marginal conditions when it comes to sunlight.

Problem is, yesterday when I went out to look at this first tomato, it was nearly the size of a 50-cent piece. And I bet that, tomorrow, when I go out to look at this tomato, it will be—you guessed it—nearly the size of a 50-cent piece.

They grow up so fast, don’t they? After all, our plants are like our children. More unruly, perhaps.

It’s growing, all right. I’m sure of it. At least, I think it must be. No, I can’t see the cells divide, can’t witness the pale green sustenance flow through the stalks and stems and transform magically into fruit, can’t prove that anything is happening. Vegetation is like that. It has all the time in the world. It rarely does anything fast, or sudden, or out of character. It just lives at its own pace. Annoying as hell to those of us who like to witness change in a big way, but it is what it is.

I’m looking to mark the passage of time through my garden. It used to be so dramatic. Back when I toiled on my friend John’s farm, a mile away, I would typically visit on weekends only, with the occasional mid-week appearance to pick asparagus or a few handfuls of raspberries that just couldn’t wait until the weekend. Upon those visits, with six or seven days since my last visit, the changes were noticeable. Even dramatic at times.The tomato that was the size of a nickel the previous weekend had become one the size of a quarter. The one that was large but pale green had begun turning pink. The zucchini that was just a little too small to pick had turned into a dark green baseball bat. Weeds had grown even faster and turned even meaner. Stuff happened, and it was knock-your-socks-off obvious.

I’m enjoying being able to inspect my raised beds in the morning and the evening, every day when I’m in town. But it really has changed my perspective on gardening. Everything is the same, but it’s not. It’s like one of those science fiction movies when someone with a lab coat turns a dial and e v e r y t h i n g  s   l   o   w   s    d     o     w     n.

And stops.

A watched tomato never ripens … or so it seems.

If you’ve read any of my columns, or my book, you might have gotten the impression that I’m an impatient person. That impression would be one hundred percent accurate. So waiting for something to happen, to change, to mature in my garden is becoming almost agonizing. I’m beginning to doubt that anything is really alive and growing. Some wizard has cast a sleeping spell over my garden, or me, or both. Suspended animation. Locked down. Freeze frame. Sleeping sickness.

I want to see motion, drama, change, anything. I want to know that my plants are growing, thriving, working hard for me. Let’s see the payoff, friends.Alas, leave it to a gardener to take something inherently good and see nothing but the down side.

Really, what’s going on here is yet one more lesson that has gone largely over my head. What my garden is telling me is now obvious: Slow down, pal. Take a deep breath. Smell the roses (or zinnias, in my case. Or I would, if they were in bloom….)

I hereby pledge to appreciate the slow, subtle, silent change that happens in the garden, that happens in life. I will pull off the fast lane, take time to appreciate the slow and steady, the invisible and gradual, the unnoticeable and unknowable. I will take the garden at its pace, in its own time.

Or at least, I’ll try. Stay tuned.

 

Starting Over May 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 1:50 pm

A huge pile of dirt occupies a significant portion of my driveway, a mountain of soil. It will take me all weekend to fill the four little raised beds I just assembled and to dump the rest of the soil in various places around the yard.

In the raised bed I now approach, the soil is filled almost to the rim, but it will settle at least an inch over time. It’s time to dig three furrows in parallel. And to spread bean seeds generously.

The pale white seeds settle effortlessly into their new environment. It’s already late May, and temperature is high. Rain is abundant. It takes barely four days for the first bright green stems and seed heads to start peeking through the dirt, and it takes only eight days for the first true leaves to begin to unfurl. All seems right in the garden.

A rare moment of sunlight in the backyard. The spot chosen for two raised beds.

But this is not the garden I have formed, filled and feted for the past decade. This is not John’s farm. This is not the sharecropper plot where “The Seeds of Spring: Lessons from the Garden” was inspired. This is my own back yard, a yard where, at most, four hours of sunlight appear grudgingly on a good day. In early spring and late summer, when the sun is closer to the horizon and the hours and quality of daylight are diminished, it might be closer to three hours. Assuming clouds don’t get in the way.

Having been chased out of my beloved garden on John’s property by thousands of angry, swarming bees—some of which inflicted their stings on me before I wised up—I am starting over. Back to basics. Placing four raised beds in the least terrible spots of my own yard. Two beds in the back, two beds on the side. One with beans; one with zinnias; one with dahlias; the final one housing three tomato plants, two sweet pepper plants and a single basil plant.

There can be no doubt: I am desperate.

I very much hope that this is a temporary arrangement. John, who owns the horse-and-honey farm exactly one mile from my suburban house, says he will move the bee hives that are closest to my garden plot. But he can’t do it while the summer is upon us and the bees are in full honey production. Maybe this fall or winter. So next spring, I hope to be back on the farm, with its full sun for most of my 65-foot-by-30-foot plot. Unless he accepts my heavy-hearted suggestion that he let someone else work the plot—assuming they don’t get chased out or murdered by the normally placid bees.

But that’s next year. This is Memorial Day weekend. The beginning of this summer. So much promise. So much hot weather to spur the growth of our main season plants. If I have four small, shaded beds this year instead of a big plot with six medium-sized beds and tons of sun-drenched perennial plants to weed and feed, well, so be it. I can handle the reduction of time spent on my knees and bent over pulling weeds for seemingly endless hours every weekend. At my house, at least I have SOMETHING to do that resembles gardening, something that reduces the sense of frustration and loss. I have four raised beds, freshly planted. And, I must admit, I have no real hope of growing anything.

Two new raised beds get used to their more common condition: shade.

Three to four hours of full sun a day is a recipe for disappointment. For disaster. For failure.

But wait. I’ve been in this situation before, though I recall vaguely that I have done poorly with such conditions. These plants need six hours, maybe even eight, of direct sunlight each day to thrive. All I can do now is keep them alive and hope that they do something.But wait. Many of my friends and acquaintances have been in this situation before. And are in it again. Now and again they ask me: “What can I grow in my yard? It gets only about four hours of sunlight a day. Maybe three.”

I commiserate, then list some plants that like shade or partial sun. Begonias. Impatiens. Some other flowers. The occasional herb. But summertime veggies? Afraid not. Thanks for playing.

Yet they try. As I will try. Because, well, we have nothing better to do, and we really like growing things, and, gosh darn it, maybe that advice by that book author Bates guy isn’t really accurate—despite the fact that he just won an International Book Award (I hadn’t heard of the contest either before I applied). Who set him up as the EXPERT on gardening? Sure, he’s old, if that’s a good thing. He has been growing stuff a long time, so maybe experience has taught him something. But he has no training in horticulture.

I never get tired of seeing seedlings emerge from the earth.

So you try to grow plants where there is not enough sun. And I’m trying to grow plants where there is not enough sun. You know, and I know, that the chances of anything remotely resembling success are low. Very low. Sure, the plants look good now, less than two weeks out of the nursery or after surfacing from seeds. They haven’t had time to be stressed, or to show the effects of stress, related to inadequate light. Soon they will exhibiting the attribute that I term “becoming leggy”—starting to lean at odd angles toward what little sun reaches their area, and sending out stems and branches much too thin to support vigorous growth. Fewer and smaller flowers than expected will form. Fewer and smaller fruits, and later ones. Very sad. But that’s down the road. We’ll deal with that level of disappointment when it manifests later in the summer.

Right now, I am inspired by all of you who face these same odds and plant anyway. Those of you who persevere, who appreciate the good, the surprising, the process, the warm sun on your faces and the dirt on your knees. I salute you. Not because you “succeed” by some textbook definition: X pounds of ripe tomatoes and dahlia flowers Y inches across.No, I salute you because you have dreams. Because you don’t give up. Because you have hope.

And because you have hope, so do I.

 

The Crack Between the Worlds May 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 7:46 pm

Anthropologist and author Carlos Castaneda referred to twilight as the “crack between the worlds” of day and night. I think of May as the crack between the seasons.

Many people consider May a month of transition, a time when it’s late spring and early summer simultaneously, when the best of spring crops linger and the anticipation of planting summer crops excites. They seasons ebb and flow, overlapping, these observers say. Maybe. But so often it seems as if each year there is that one day, one hour, one moment, when the needle moves. It was spring. Now it’s summer. Boom. Next.

Maybe it’s a sudden thunderstorm. Or it’s the moment you realize that your spinach plants have all bolted to seed overnight. Or when you place those tomato and pepper plants on your patio to harden. It’s a feeling, a recognition of sudden change. One yields to the other. We have graduated. Bring on the main attraction: Summertime.

For some reason, I feel the transitions more smoothly and with more nuance when winter yields to spring and when fall succumbs to winter. Summer, though, sneaks up without warning and pounds on my door, and I’m grateful when it’s time to answer. I long for the searing heat and rapid plant growth and promise of big-crop harvest that summer brings. Spring wants to linger, but it just gets overwhelmed and banished by heat and bugs and the incessant onslaught of June, July and August. The cool days of early May get forgotten so quickly when the thermometer starts spiking.

It’s crowded in there! Spring lettuce is a colorful and tasty treat.

The phenomenon is not just visible in the garden. Along the roadsides and walking paths, brilliant white wild blackberry flowers explode everywhere, supplemented by early wild roses—with smaller but similar white flowers, in many cases—and by white and yellow honeysuckle. Other wild flowers appear by the day. Wild strawberries invade lawns and flower beds. It’s fast and furious.

My raised bed filled with lettuce looks like it will burst any second now. You can thin out every other plant every other day, and the remaining plants will spread eagerly in the intervening hours, filling those momentary spaces again and sucking up every remaining cool, moist moment before turning tough and bitter toward the end of the month. The crowded plants remind me of the much-too-narrow seats on the commuter bus I ride a couple days a week. I always seem to sit next to someone determined to jab his elbow into my side as he reads the paper, engaged in a silent but not-so-subtle fight for space. He apparently feels resentful that he does not have as much room as he deserves, so he’s determined to make life miserable for the guy next to him, even though I’m not encroaching a millimeter on his space. Occasionally, I push back; I paid for this seat. But often I find myself leaning away from him—even if I start to get in the way of the guy standing in the aisle. At 7 in the morning, it’s too early for a fight.

So maybe my lettuce plants are engaged in the same pushing and shoving, in slow motion, when I’m not looking. Or even when I am looking—I just don’t interpret what I’m staring at. If so, I hope they remember to get off at the right stop.

It was Saturday morning, Kentucky Derby day, when I first heard the sound. I was alert for bees. Individual bees, and bees in small groups. But nothing prepared me for the sound, and then the sight, of a swarm of thousands and thousands of frantic honey bees, whipping each other into a frenzy as they circled each other like electrons around a core of plutonium, a dark cloud of doom in perpetual, insane motion settled over almost half of my garden. Almost like a CGI movie scene: biblical and fearsome and deadly.

Wild blackberry flowers decorate roadsides in May.

Upon seeing the swarm, I moved cautiously and slowly to the far side of the garden. I tried to control my breath and assess the threat rationally. I had survived several stings in recent weeks without the severe reaction I had as a teenager, which required emergency medical treatment. I had recently bought a new kit for emergency use if stung and in danger of passing out. But this cloud of venom was beyond anything my worst nightmares could produce.

Seeing that I could not reach the garden gate without passing through the swarm, I weighed my options. I could stand still and hope the swarm simply went away. Or I could bend a metal pole, pull down the corner of the deer fence I so had carefully erected and reinforced, and crawl out of harm’s way.

Once I realized that the swarm was advancing toward me, the choice was simple. Down came the fence. I crawled to safety.

That moment provided a very sharp crack between two worlds. My days of leisurely gardening on my friend John’s horse farm spilled through that crack and drained away. I’m trying to figure out how I can just walk away from the garden plot I have loved for so many years—and which formed the basis for my gardening book, “The Seeds of Spring: Lessons from the Garden.” I had hoped to find a community garden plot in the area, but alas, all are spoken for. It’s just not meant to be, at least for this summer. I have no intent of being found dead dressed in my ratty gardening clothes and covered with stingers, sweat and sunscreen. When I go, I want a little more dignity.

By next year, at the latest, I suspect that the frantic bee activity will subside. So in a worst case scenario, I won’t be doing much gardening until then. So, dear reader, I thank you for following this blog, and I promise to resume it at some point when the world settles down for me.

Until then, happy gardening!