I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said something along the lines of, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you simply don’t sit down.” I’ve been enjoying the Memorial Day weekend adopting that philosophy. I can’t work with the manly, maniacal ferocity I once could muster, but I sure can potter.
Of course I have to be civil, and attend family barbecues, but even when laughing at a fine story, half my mind is back in the dirt, planning my next pottering. I’m stiff and sore, but can’t remember ever enjoying my garden the way I’m enjoying it this year.
I’ve adjusted my attitude, (or, to give credit where credit is due, God adjusted my attitude for me), and I simply am not so fired-up and focused on results. Ambiguously, the results are better.
It is difficult to explain. I’ve known for years how desire can spoil things; when young I would meet a nice woman and enjoy engaging conversations, but then desire would creep in, and I soon was not enjoying much of anything. Noon seemed dark as midnight, which seems a bit foolish now, as one woman I anguished over now has only three teeth left and weighs over three hundred pounds.
God knew best. I have pretty much led a life out of control, buffeted this way and that by circumstances, which tends to make you pray more than you pray when things are in control, and also may be a sign God is in control, for spirituality is more about being freed from desires than it is about getting what you desire. Often it is easier to be free from a desire by not getting it, though not getting-what-we-want does tend to make us sulk.
Back when I was devoted to chain-smoking, I never much liked it when I was especially poor and couldn’t afford cigarettes, but I had to admit my health improved. (Also, it is amazing what you can accomplish, if you crave a cigarette. An old commercial once stated, “I’ll walk a mile for a Camel (brand of cigarette)”, but I’d go farther; I’d spread hot asphalt in a desert under a blazing sun all day for the money to buy some, yet it occurred to me that I was doing all these amazing deeds without a cigarette, which suggested I really didn’t “need” them.)
Just as not-getting what you desire can be a good thing, getting what you desire can cause troubles. I don’t suppose I need to give examples; people can usually think up their own. And we all have met people who “have it made” who are miserable, and who make those around them miserable as well. Although many see God as a great Santa who responds to our Wish List, there are times we wish for the wrong things, and if we put such things up on a pedestal we are creating a “false god” and are probably going to get what we deserve. In some cases we are “given to our sin”, which basically means we stew in our own juices and suffer long and hard, and in other cases we experience a swift and surgical removal of what we desire, which is traumatic but often better, because it is over so swiftly.
I’m sure this idea strikes some as if spirituality is an ultimate spoilsport, lurking about to catch us desiring something, and then snatching it away. (At times my life felt that way, and for a while my motto was, “The right thing is never the rewarding thing.”) However Divinity is described as a “Good Shepherd”, and a shepherd doesn’t want miserable sheep, parched and starved and with moth-eaten wool with with bald patches. Rather God wants his sheep led to greener pastures, or, as Jesus stated, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
In theory we should desire, but desire what God desires, as that will not wind us up hip-deep in the troubles our own more-ignorant desires often land us in. Of course, I haven’t yet heard a deep voice commanding me, “plant turnips; not rutabaga,” Instead I simply roll with the punches better. When I have a seed-bed nicely tilled and raked-up and ready-to-plant, and then a small stampede of children at my Childcare cross the seedbed and pack it as hard as brick, I no longer bulge eyes and burst blood vessels; I just shrug and say, “Well, I’ll be gummed.” And when, as I transplant seedlings in a neat row, I hear a soft noise behind me and turn to see one of my goats eating seedlings in a neat row, I no longer seek to embed a trowel between its eyes as it cavorts away from my screaming onrush, prancing and kicking its heels. Instead I again simply shrug and say, “Well, I’ll be gummed.”
If nothing else, my blood pressure is lower.
Because the results are no longer so screamingly important, I seem to have better results. I’ve heard that meditation makes one more efficient, but I never was big at sitting cross-legged and chanting, “Aumm”. But my current attitude seems to have roughly the same effect, in that I work smarter, not harder. I may even write a book about it. If President Trump could write, “The Art Of The Deal“, then maybe I can write “The Art Of The Potter-Around“.
One thing I have noticed is that, because I spend less time grousing, there is far more time to notice little things, and appreciate them. Where I used to fill silence with a lot of noise, switching my radio from station to station, I now enjoy a quiet garden, with only the wind and the occasional twitter of a bird. I’ve even started to enjoy just laying in bed with insomnia:
The last breeze stirred night’s spring leaves, departing.
Then a soft summer silence descended:
Frogs gone silent in the cool; crickets not starting.
Silence was dark, draped velvet, once rended
By the yap of a far fox noting the waning
Moon was rising late, but swiftly mended
By smooth stitchings of peace. Life was gaining
Summer strength in the healing dark. Ended
For a time was all bustle and battle;
But then, so early it sometimes seems
A sort of miracle, before men first rattle
And bang, stirring and starting to chase dreams
With machinery, in their sleep they’ve heard
The glad announcement of dawn’s first bird.
Besides asparagus and rhubarb produced from big roots I planted long ago, this year’s garden has only produced stones and witch-grass, piled at the edge.
As a boy I assumed witch grass got its name because it was a curse in a garden. It sends out long roots, and any broken-off piece of root left behind will shoot up a vigorous new stem of grass. One of the first money-making jobs I ever had as a small boy was to remove witch-grass from a neighbor’s garden, and I recall being appalled how swiftly the work grew tedious, and how long it took an hour to pass so I could collect my 25¢. If anyone had ever suggested I’d ever get pleasure from weeding it I would have called them out of their cotton-pickin’ minds.
Yet I recall only around five-years later, when I was eleven, I started a small garden in the back yard, and our cook-maid-nanny came out to see what I was up to. She was a tough, chain-smoking woman of around forty from a farm up on Prince Edward’s Island, and when she saw me struggling to shake the dirt from a thick turf by hand she abruptly stated, “Here; let me show you how to do that.” I was slightly offended that some mere cook should think she knew more about gardening than my awesome self, but I had to admit it was interesting to watch her. She never touched the turf, instead using a spading fork to toss it about in the air, swiftly reducing it to a dirtless tangle of roots, which she tossed aside. It was obvious she had a lot of practice, in her past. She made quite a vision, wearing an apron and with a cigarette drooping from her lips, but what was most interesting to me was the enjoyment in her eyes. In three or four minutes she’d done the amount of work I’d done in the past hour, at which point she was huffing and puffing. “Guess I’m getting old,” she commented, handing me the fork, “But try it my way. It’s faster.”
What I really learned from her was that one could do such work with enjoyment in their eyes. It was amazing how often I’d remember her, as a gardener dealing with witch-grass over the next fifty years. It turned out there was good money in knowing how to remove witch-grass from a flower bed, as most ladies are not as skilled as that cook was, and the only enjoyment in the eyes of my employers was derived from watching me do the job.
As time passed I learned the weed is called witch-grass because in the past “witch” was the name given to a herbalist. The church often didn’t approve much of people who believed plants could heal, as priests felt God deserved the glory, and there were some bad times when herbalists could be in grave danger (although the danger to herbalists was not as bad as some now describe it, and the real medieval danger-of-execution tended to involve politics, such as being Pro-Catholic or Pro-Protestant.) There were some herbalists who perhaps got too interested in sex and drugs, focusing on herbs that were aphrodisiacs and hallucinogens, and these people may have contributed to the idea of a “wicked witch.” But I honestly believe there were other “white witches” who simply had a God-given gift, when it came to recognizing what plants had what God-given positive effects. (For example, all the benefits of what we call “aspirin” originally came from willow bark.)
And even as a boy I did notice there was something attractive about witch-grass in the spring. Without thinking, we boys would chew it. Also dogs and cats ate it.
Pullets like it as well. When I release the young hens from the fox-proof bunker I’ve constructed for them, first thing in the morning, they charge to the pile of witch-grass I’ve tossed in their pen even before eating their grain.
So, for a pottering fellow like me, I have found a use for the first crop the garden produces. But what to do with the second crop; the piles of stones?
It turns out they are perfect for filling potholes in the Childcare driveway. Of course, I may have to endure a bit of scorn from my oldest son. He thinks it is easier to arrive with an entire dump truck or two of “hard-pack”, and spread it out with a front-end-loader. But if I did that, what would I do with all my stones? Anyway, pottering involves wheelbarrows and rakes, not dump-trucks and front-end-loaders.
Today’s pottering involved moving a big sheet of black plastic I found wadded up in a corner of the barn from one place in the garden, where I spread it last summer, to another place, where I’m spreading it this year. I have the hunch that the black plastic absorbs so much heat from the summer sun that it cooks the weed-seeds in the soil beneath. There was no sign of life in the soil I exposed, (in the foreground in the picture below.) (The plastic sheet is moved to the background.)
The problem with weeds is that they have a crafty strategy, regarding their seeds. Not all seeds sprout the first, second or even third year. Therefore they keep coming up, even if you have done a perfect job weeding for one, two or three years. I myself have never been a perfect weeder for even a week, let alone a year. But I never liked the idea of using a herbicide such as “Roundup”, even before the recent worries about it causing lymphoma surfaced. Therefore I have always utilized various sorts of mulching, hot-water-sprays, and lots of elbow grease. This year I am experimenting with various black “fabrics” that let the rain and air through, but give weeds no light, and also this old sheet of black plastic.
Of course, it may well turn out plastic also has some bad stuff involved, some trace-gas out-vented or some such thing. All sorts of fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides and fungicides have been banned since my family first had a vegetable garden in 1956, (at the time of the Suez Crisis and Hungarian Revolution, when it seemed Atomic War might make food scarce.) The average American is likely loaded with more toxins than you can shake a stick at, and the wonder is we haven’t all grown extra ears and noses. But I figure the cancers started by one toxin are killed off by the cancers started by the next, and through sheer luck we stay in a sort of balance. However it is likely best to grow your own vegetables, and grow them as organically as possible.
After all, Moms have always told us vegetables are good for us, even when they aren’t herbalists. I’ve started looking on line to see what benefits certain plants have, Asparagus surprised me. It turned out it didn’t have one benefit; it had seventeen!
OK. Now time to head off and potter.