Archives For Gardening

21-1My youngest recently turned 21, which got me to reminiscing about what I was up to when I was that age:

  • I lived in Des Moines.
  • My husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary a couple months earlier.
  • I worked as a typist in an insurance company claims department — you know, Des Moines.
  • We were in the Hand-Me-Down-Mix-n-Match Era. (Translation: the furnishings of our little duplex on 62nd Street were s-p-a-r-s-e.)
  • I had fully recovered from the bloody nose and busted lip I got shortly before that Big Birthday. [Don’t ask.*]

But these factoids do not reveal those things I aspired to, things I dreamed of, things I wanted to be. Let’s time travel to that day long ago and visit the yearnings of my barely (but official) adult heart:

 

1. I wanted to live on a few acres and raise chickens, maybe a goat, grow a big garden, and tend an orchard and bee hives. 

Yes, I actually told people I wanted to do thisI blame this short-lived earth-woman-greener-than-Kermit-the-Frog-country-lifestyle fantasy on those wonderful visits to the farm as a teen, as well as the mystique associated with beekeeping (my uncle tended quite a few hives and my dad dabbled). But the reality is: I am a city kid, born and bred. I’m betting that if I were actually in charge of said mini farm, the plants would likely die or yield precious little, having been molested by pests, overcome by frost, or some other calamity, and the animals would probably only stick around for a couple of days before wandering off in search of a for-real farmer. The bees would probably buzz off, too.

lambs-quarters

Lambs Quarters

But lately I hear more and more about slow food and heirloom seeds and ethical eating and all, and I think I really should have a hand in producing at least a tiny portion of what ends up on our dinner table. So last year I planted some perennial herbs in a little bed out back. I added a few tomato plants and then transplanted some lambs quarters (a volunteer green that is quite yummy sauteed or steamed and added to dishes — you know, weeds just might be my forté). It’s not much, but all the fussing over bugs and watering and keeping it weeded helps me tip my hat to and cosmically connect with the folks who labor to produce all the delicious local organic foods I enjoy.

May they carry on in perpetuity.

 

2. I wanted to see Europe. More specifically, France. 

I bandied this about as well. At 21, my French was still somewhat fluent and I longed to see the places that my years of education in things Français had brought to life: I’d tour champagne country, drink in the beauty of magnificent jardins, get lost in the chateaux, nibble on some bistro chèvre and crèpes and chocolat, and, of course, hit the biggies: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee and Arc de Triomphe, the Seine, Versailles.

Unfortunately, during those early years, setting aside funds for travel abroad was beyond our reach. We were in the mode of parceling out our modest wages on practical things, like chairs to sit on and lamps to read by, and spanking down those college bills. In the meantime, something else began to gradually overtake my European yearning.

states_imgmapAs we rewarded and entertained our frugal little selves with a weekend road trip here, or a little educational excursion there, before we knew it, we got hooked on seeing the good old U.S. of A. We’ve now seen 48 of the 50 states, dozens of national parks, and what seems like countless historic points of interest and natural wonders (plus several forays into both Canada and Mexico), I like to think we are destined to hit the Final Two before we croak. They are — drumroll — Montana (I know, why didn’t we bop on over when we were in either Idaho or Wyoming?!) and Alaska. It’d be simple enough to accomplish this in one colossal expedition — the Quintessential Dyer Road Trip.

 

3. I wanted to be a women’s counselor. I didn’t tell a soul about this one, though. At 21, I didn’t imagine I had enough life experience or training to be giving no kind of advice or guidance to others. After all, I had a big enough challenge just navigating my own obstacle course. Yet, deep down in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to help people along their way. Women, in particular.

I had seen this book laying on my husband’s desk; while he was travelling overnight for work, I read it: How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Alan Laiken. The author touted many of the classic principles of time management and life coaching. The part that stuck with me, though, was what he said about writing down your goals. He didn’t let you off with writing just one set of goals, no — he said a person needed six-month goals, three-to-five-year goals, and lifetime goals. So I wrote. And then I stuck the little piece of chartreuse paper in a private journal.

I would pull the list out periodically and it would jump off the page: Become a women’s counselor. Mr. Laiken had said that if you didn’t devote at least ten minutes a day doing something that helped you progress toward your lifetime goal, then you weren’t “owning” it. I was working in an administrative support capacity and later became a full-time mom — no counselor training in the offing. Long stretches of time would pass between reviews of the short list on the chartreuse paper. Every time I got it out, I felt less and less justified in even yearning to do this. What was I thinking? Unless I am willing to make sacrifices and get the necessary education, I should just give it up.

I hung onto the piece of paper for twenty years before I finally admitted, Who are you kidding, Linda. You haven’t been on track to accomplish this and you’re not going to get on track. I tossed it in the waste basket. I felt less burdened, but a little sad at the same time.

I continued raising kids and being a wife and doing the kinds things middle age women typically do. And all the while, I rarely thought about my original hankering. I was busy learning new skills, venturing into new territory professionally, cultivating a network of friends in a new community, and finding satisfaction in it all. Then one day, one of these new friends made a pointed statement about how the things I had said really helped her see beyond an impasse. In reply I said something about always having wanted to help people.

And that’s when it hit me.

I had found my way to the fulfilling of my heart’s desire after all, without even realizing it. I looked around in my life and saw all the ways I was actually doing it — I just hadn’t hung out a shingle. In fact, it’s not really my style to help others in a for-pay context. I learned early on that I didn’t enjoy sewing when I was paid to do it — those jobs always seemed like such a chore — I much preferred to do it “for love”. Likewise, I would much prefer to “help” for the sake of friendship and love, not profit. I had become more confident now that I had more ample life experience, had accumulated a significant body of knowledge, and variety of skill sets. I realized that in the course of just living my life, I had found frequent opportunities to use my gifts to provide a leg up” for others.

My dream came true: I became a helper of women.

___________________

* Okay, since you went ahead and asked anyway: I was in an auto accident. And I’m here to tell you it’s very difficult to claim it’s the other guy’s fault when you hit a parked vehicle. And I wasn’t even texting! 

But forever after, I religiously placed my purse on the back seat so as not to tempt me to take my eyes off the road to rummage through it looking for, lets say, some stupid nail clippers. And yes, it was acutely embarrassing.

 

A couple of years ago someone forwarded me a flyer for an all-day seminar on “The Spirituality of Food.” The title intrigued me, so I signed up. Presenters covered topics such as slow food, cooperative farmers’ markets, sustainable agriculture, and the ethics involved in the practices of modern agribusiness. One of the speakers suggested that everyone would benefit from growing at least part of what they eat as a way to be connected with the process of food production. That idea resonated with me.

Having been a city dweller most of my life, I’d never grown up around big gardens that yielded bushels of vegetables to fill a freezer and line shelves with home canned goods. (Although I knew people who did.) I believe the only things I ever grew from seeds were flowers. My work was cut out for me if I was going to heed the speaker’s advice and grow something edible.

The next summer I got several tomato plants and put them in my back yard near the porch. I watered them when it got dry. I staked them. I dusted them with natural herbicides to keep the pests away. I mean, I’d just stand there and admire them. Then after the proscribed interval, the little fruits began sporting a slight yellowish tint that would day-by-day morph into a bright red-orange. One evening I walked past the plants on my way from the car and thought to myself, “I’m going to pick and eat my first home grown tomato tomorrow!” I was so excited.

But when I woke up, the gorgeous little gem was gone. It hadn’t fallen to the ground — I checked. I confess I wondered whether the heist was perpetrated by a two-legged or four-legged thief. I shrugged off the disappointment and decided to focus on the next tomato likely to ripen. Once again, the morning I went out to harvest the little beauty, it had disappeared. This pattern continued until frost claimed the plants (I planted them later than I should have.) For all my trouble, I only harvested one measly tomato, and unfortunately, it tasted bland. Hmmm. This whole “growing some of my own food” experience wasn’t going as planned.

This year, I decided to try again, planting another four-pack of patio tomatoes in my little garden plot. I also threw in some herbs so just in case the critters were still on the prowl I’d at least have something to harvest. As it turns out, this season all the plants have grown quite nicely, especially since the temperatures haven’t been anywhere near as brutal as last summer’s nor has it been as dry. And for whatever reason, it seems as if the critters are currently occupied elsewhere. All this to say…

I picked and ate my first home grown tomato of the season the other day! It was smallish, but very tasty and sweet. I think I’m in love. Holding that bright red-orange little orb in my hand took me back to the best tomato of my life.

When I was about six years old, my brother and I were visiting our paternal grandfather for the day at his place in the country. The two of us had spent who knows how long cavorting in the barn, climbing up the ladder to the hay loft and jumping into piles of straw, swinging on grapevines in the woods, and investigating a neighbor’s new bull in the pasture beyond the woods. Our stomachs must have signaled it was time for lunch and we made our way back to Grandpa’s house.

I have no idea what else we had for lunch that day, but tomatoes from his garden were definitely part of the plan. He asked me to go outside and pick a couple from the garden, right outside his back door. I must have told him I didn’t know how to pick a ripe tomato, because the next thing that happened is etched in my memory. He grabbed a salt shaker and escorted me to the tomato patch. I was then instructed on how to determine ripeness by color and texture. Then he plucked one off a vine and asked me to do likewise.

“Now I’m going to show you how you eat a tomato.” He lifted the fruit to his mouth and took a big bite right out of it. Right there, right off the plant, right in the middle of the garden! Then as he sprinkled the cut surface with a little salt, he went on to explain, “And this’ll make it taste even better.” He took a second bite.

“Go ahead. You try it.” I followed suit and chomped into the tomato I’d picked. Well, I can surely testify that I’d never had a taste sensation quite like the one I was having as I stood there in the middle of my grandpa’s garden! Juice dripped down my chin and, before I was done, all the way to my elbows. He smiled his approval and we both kept on slurping and salting and munching away. The experience was not only delicious, but exciting too, on several counts. First, because we weren’t washing the tomatoes, or even slicing them to serve on plates, all civilized-like. We were just letting our primitive, hunter-gatherer selves feed our faces! And secondly, it was a special moment shared between just me and my grandpa, as he passed along one of the secrets of the good life.

Yup. I think I’ll be putting out tomato plants again next year, and might even add some peppers or squash to the mix. It’s true: growing some of your own food does connect you to something vital and nourishing to the soul.

tomato