A Living Canvas
The other day I asked a group of middle school students, "Why Garden?" They came up with twenty fantastic reasons that we summarized as the Three F's — Food, Fun, and Fitness. It is wonderful to add these Three F's to the Three R's! In addition, they named other benefits that we may call “Food for the Spirit” — Beauty, therapy, trying new things, being outside, and helping the environment.
Today, I am thinking about a garden as beauty, as a living canvas. For our family it is the backdrop of our life. Looking at old photo albums I see it ever-present, transforming as our family transforms according to our actives, our age, and needs. It is a place of beauty, rest, recreation; a place for passing milestones of life and celebrations; a source of nourishment.
In these winter months it reminds us that there is a time of rest and transition, necessary for new life and creativity. The other day I found an earthworm, cold, on top of the soil, lifeless but moist. I took it in my hand, held it warm for awhile until I felt it move. Then, I dug a hole and placed it in with loose dirt and leaves.
A couple of days later I found a dead yellow-bellied sap sucker near our apple tree. This is a bird I loathe for its habit of girdling trees with holes so that the sap oozes out. I picked it up with no sadness and admired its exquisite colors before tossing it into a pile of last season's plant waste to decompose.
A garden is a place to share life. Now that our children are gone there are many lives still to nurture and share it with. I am against bird feeders, or "feeding" wildlife, yet birds and wildlife abound, attracted by the energy of the life zone we have created and maintained.
I have had so many intimate hummingbird experiences that are the most thrilling. Many nest in our yard and drink nectar from our flowers. Some have come to play in the mist of a hose I held on a hot summer day. Another scolded me, hovering about a foot from my face when I unknowingly came too close to her nest with babies in it. Last week I scolded a ruby throat for staying past the first frost, as it foraged for nectar in scarce flowers. We have toad, bunny and many other bird and animal stories, because now they are our family and share our garden.
It is a constantly changing canvas of texture and color, transforming daily and with the seasons. Where else can one create to stimulate so many senses? Fragrance, not just of flowers, but leaves, earth, humidity and currents of air; color ever-changing of every hue and luminosity; textures infinite and moving, and all of this in so many combinations and in so many different atmospheric conditions.
Education is not real unless it exposes children to the reality of coexisting and co-creating with nature. This is the primal cause for humanity's continuity and for the creation of civilization. It connects something inside of one's being with the source of life and with the invisible lives that nourish our spirit. It is the cause of awe that humans express through beautiful works and relationships.
When I see a school that supports the healthy activity of gardening − reconnecting children with the earth and fostering "ecological literacy" − I feel great joy. We are seeing that school gardens are becoming a stimulus for children to become more conscious of their food choices and to experience the nurturing and patience that comes with gardening. These are the building blocks for living responsibly. When parents participate in school gardens it contributes to family unity and to the satisfaction of working together to support the life-giving process.