Garden Night

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal July 26, 2011

We hold a special “Garden Family Council” each spring. Sitting around a big table and with my daughter acting as scribe, all of us shout out everything we want to plant in our family garden that year. Tomatoes, beans, corn, carrots, lettuce and radishes are regulars. Some years we’re more daring, adding watermelon, big blue morning glories and Jack-Be-Little pumpkins to our garden wish list.
After the list of “crops” is made, each child chooses two or three vegetables he wants to be exclusively in charge of caring for. Our council ends with the family gathered around a large piece of white butcher paper, drawing a sketch of the future garden and assigning vegetables and caretaker children to specific rows.
I remember my own parents holding a “Garden Family Council” when I was a young girl. It was always very exciting. During the following week, my mom would come home with a new pair of garden gloves for each of us children. We tried them on and modeled them all over the house, dreaming about our future vegetables. Then the warm weather came.
At dinner one evening my parents announced cheerily, “Tonight is garden night!” The response was less than enthusiastic.
“I’m too busy ... Too much homework ... Something on my schedule tonight ...” The list of excuses always went on and on.
“No, tonight is garden night!” my parents would insist. So we grudgingly put away our books or toys, hung up the phone, changed our clothes and went outside.
Our reluctance never lasted for long. The minute we were in the garden the fun began. Talking and laughing together, we’d work on our individual rows — digging, furrowing and planting. We prided ourselves on a straight row and marked each one carefully with a stick and a seed package.
As we worked, we sang songs and talked about the happenings of the day. Outside, with no TV or radio blaring, conversation came easily and family ties grew more quickly than the seeds in the freshly turned earth. When the stars came out, Mom would bring a bucket of ice cream outside and we would lie on the grass, licking ice cream cones and admiring the evening’s work. Satisfied, relaxed and a little bit dirty, we reluctantly went back to homework and evening chores and then to bed.
It’s been several years now since I was a child in the garden with my family. I can hardly believe the passage of time as I gather my own children for a “garden night” one evening.
“I’m tired.” “I want to finish my book.” “We just weeded yesterday!” The initial excuses echo those from my childhood, but we head out into the cool evening anyway. Green peas and corn are poking up through the damp earth.
“Look how big the tomatoes are!” yells my daughter, and everyone runs to inspect. Working together we weed and furrow each row, while the toddlers run freely down the garden paths.
“What’s in the new patch of garden?” asks a friendly neighbor.
“Corn,” smiles my son. “Three thousand seeds!” The numbers make us sound more ambitious than we are, but the anticipation is worth it.
“Six more eggs from the chickens!” shouts my four-year-old. He runs to the kitchen, his hands full of treasure.
“Another robin’s nest!” calls my daughter, pointing to a tree and everyone gathers to welcome the newcomers. As the children talk and laugh together, a smile crosses my lips and a fresh breeze fills my heart.
When the stars come out, we sit on the swing and look down at the river.
“We’re rich,” breathes my daughter.
“Yes,” my husband replies. “We have everything.”
Garden night: a tradition passed down to another generation. A tradition I don’t want to forget.

Avoiding Apathy

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal July 12, 2011

Life is easy right now. Most of the people I know have a car (more than one), a phone (more than one), a T.V. (more than one), they often take vacations (more than one) and even own a home (some have more than one). I don’t personally know anyone going hungry, and even friends of mine who’ve experienced a “downsizing” in their job status are still able to make ends meet and live comfortably. Some would call our current standard of living “the abundant life.” And it is very abundant. However, we must be very careful that the “abundant” life doesn’t become the “apathetic” life. July is a good time for a wake-up call.
My wake-up call came when my teenage son excitedly told me one day that he had seen a piece of the Berlin Wall. “It was behind glass,” he explained. “A real piece of the wall. Imagine that!” I waited for him to finish the story of his trip to the museum before I replied.
“Actually, I have a piece of the wall downstairs,” I told him. “You do?” He didn’t believe me. “And, you can touch it,” I added. As he eagerly followed me to the basement, I realized that I had never shared with him two important experiences of my youth.
Various circumstances took me to Germany twice as a teenager. The first time was in 1988, to visit Hans and Inge Wittke, scouting friends of my dad’s. They lived in Dusseldorf, and I stayed with them for a month while I practiced my Jr. High school German skills. As active German scouters, the Wittkes provided an opportunity for me to attend a German scout camp for two weeks. Hiking, bicycling and backpacking through the green fields and hills of West Germany is an experience I will never forget.
Just as sharp in my memory as the campfires, German scout songs and quaint German towns are, is the memory of a one day trip to the East German border. We climbed to a high castle, where we could look over barbed wire and “no man’s land” into East Germany. It was frightful to see people - actual people - on the other side. Later, we drove right up to the border and stopped at the sign that read, “Halt! Hier Grenze.” I could see the guard towers and the soldiers inside, and they could see me.
Coincidentally, I traveled to Germany exactly two summers later, as a 16-year-old, to spend a month with a German family in Nurnberg. The year was 1990. Just nine months earlier, the Iron Curtain had fallen. One week of the student exchange involved a trip to Berlin. We traveled by bus from Nurnberg, driving through the old East Germany.
After hours of grey houses, grey broken streets, and grey “Travies” (cars big enough to fit two people and a sack of potatoes) we finally reached the old West Berlin. Warm beds, orange juice (not available in the East) and colorful flower boxes were a welcome sight.
Our tour the next day took us to Checkpoint Charlie. It was now a museum, and we walked uninhibited from one side of the city to the other. The Berlin Wall had been cleared from the Brandenburger Tor, but the rest of the wall remained. The other students and I rented hammers and chisels from the street vendors, and chopped away pieces of the wall to take home as souvenirs. There was plenty of wall for everyone.
Viewing the East - and the grey poverty - first through barbed wire, and then from the other side, was another experience I will not soon forget.
But the Berlin Wall fell a long time ago. My children read about it in history books now. Visitors to Germany can no longer chip away their own souvenir wall piece, and the once grey East German houses are now filled with typical flowerboxes again. Will we forget the Iron Curtain? Will we become apathetic in our abundance? Have we perhaps even forgotten the American Revolution?
Abundance is all around us, but it could turn into apathy if we allow it to. July is a good time to remember; a good time to discuss freedom; a good time to teach children. I think I’ll bring up my piece of the Berlin Wall and use it as a centerpiece on our dining room table. We can look at it as we eat dinner and discuss our blessings and our freedoms: our two cars, our spacious house, our open lands, and our opportunities.
In fact, we’ll do more than look at the wall, I’ll let my children touch it and hold it. I hope it touches their souls like it touched mine. I want the wall and the experiences I share to stir in them a gratitude for the abundant life, a fire of freedom that will teach them to avoid apathy, so that their liberty is never placed behind glass and made a museum piece.