There is a man who tends his garden. In early-April he plants his seeds indoors in small pots. He plants indoors, for although the sun’s rays are strengthening, spring is still long to come. In late-April he places his seedlings in a south-facing window and climbs into his tractor to dig the fields where wheat and soybeans will be planted. In mid-May, on good days, the man takes his seedlings, tray-by-tray, outdoors and places them in the sun. Sheltered from the wind, the seedlings strengthen. In late-May, when all danger of frost has passed, the man carries the strongest seedlings to the garden and begins transplanting. He protects them in miniature green houses, half-gallon milk jugs or gallon water bottles, cut-down and pressed firmly into the soil. Patiently, in this way, the man plants his garden, which in April began as seedlings and in late-May became transplants. In early-June he announces the last seedling has been planted. He takes his hoe, then, and begins to loosen the soil. During long stretches between rain showers, he carries buckets of water to the garden and offers each plant a drink. Come early-August the garden will serve-up a cornucopia of fresh vegetables – tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, potatoes, Swiss chard, corn and beans; for now the man tends his young garden of sheltered transplants, his garden of milk jugs edged to the north and west by fields of soybeans and wheat.
Why is it we touch the earth? Why does one man tend his garden? Why does another scout familiar territory chronicling the slant of the sun in the changing seasons, the sound of the wind over January landscapes, the ocean-like motion of the wind through June aspens? Why do we pause at the crimson red of a ripening strawberry or linger as a dragonfly dries its new wings in the sun? What causes us to marvel at the unexpected presence of a gray tree frog or stand in awe of a female redwing blackbird anxiously guarding her nest? In this age of fast-moving technological changes, what draws us unalterably to the sudden purples of Dames Rockets or the pinks of prairie roses blooming alongside the gravel road?
Perhaps it is as Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass —
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’ouvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven….
Why does one man tend his garden? Why does another take note of the changing seasons? Perhaps each knows, instinctively, the significance of the flowering bulrush or the ancient inflorescence of seeding cotton grass. Perhaps each senses, as did Whitman, the masterpiece within the green-gray outlines of a solitary tree frog. Perhaps in our gardens, as in our adventures, we understand our primordial connection to the earth – perhaps we understand ourselves in the journeywork of the stars.
In The Way to Rainy Mountain, N. Scott Momaday wrote –
Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth…He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk.
Why does one man tend his garden? Why does another chronicle the slant of the sun in the changing seasons?
Momaday, N. Scott (1969). The Way to Rainy Mountain. University of New Mexico Press.
Whitman, W. (2007). Leaves of Grass: Original 1855 Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover.