Over the past few weeks I’ve explored this theme of the present moment, of enjoying the familiar, of slowing down and taking-in the now. It’s a concept I think we talk about often, so much so that maybe it’s become cliche. But though we utter something so much that it becomes the mundane, do we really stop to think about its depth?
Maybe attempting to write a travel blog every Sunday, when I’m not always on a traditional travel adventure, has caused me to focus in on this topic for the sole purpose of having a tale to tell. Even if that is the genesis, the conversation about the present moment, seems critically important for our wandering dispositions.
Instead of offering an apology for not taking you to a far away land, I ask that you join me once again in my own backyard. No, I will not wax poetics about the birds chirping, the tulips rising, the peach blossom aroma wafting through the neighborhood, (though that all sounds lovely and worth their very own moment). Instead, I’ll take us back to two Saturday’s ago when we arrived at the Smith Elementary School Garden . . . ___________________________________________________________
Different Modes of Exploration #9: Gardening
Lindsay and I are responsible for hosting a University of Redlands (U of R) Service Project. The U of R, our alma mater, has motivated service projects for alumni in cities across the country and even in Salzburg, Austria. We’re excited to take part in this gesture of compassion and community. But in typical Colorado weather style, dark gray clouds loom over the Rockies. We begin to wonder if we’ll be able to complete the tasks at hand.
Despite summer weather since early March, predictions for a cold, weekend-long storm have threatened our project preparing this school garden for spring planting. Some forecasters are calling for snow, others for lightning and hale. Will our volunteers brave the outdoors if the conditions change?
At noon, we hang the U of R banner and some maroon and gray balloons (school colors of course), guarded by two stuffed-animal Bulldog gargoyles (the fierce school mascot). The truck arrives with wood chips and compost soil, rich dark earth filled with nutrients and a sweet, pungent aroma, (like those peach blossoms). We’re ready.
Around 12:45, the first volunteer arrives, and a dozen more trickle in over the next half hour. The weather holds as we introduce ourselves and divide up into teams. Some folks assist me with the compost pile, others pull weeds and begin to turn the soil. After a short period of time, another group takes to the wheel barrow, hauling in that rich dark earth which will help the garden’s future vegetables flourish.
The garden is an absolute mess from winter and needs every lift of the shovel, every scratch with the rake, every breath of hard-working energy. Fortunately the overcast sky keeps us cool. Some time around 2 pm, Zumante’s family arrives to help with the Bulldog efforts, motivating us even more to till ahead.
The garden is named after Zumante, a 4th grader at the school who passed away three years ago from a severe asthma attack. His family has been instrumental in seeing the garden remain active and alive in his honor. I’m particularly fond of the pizza garden, a round gardening bed that his memorial plaque overlooks, where we’ll plant basil and tomatoes, ingredients for Zumante’s favorite food.
It’s at this moment when I look up from my focused efforts on the composting. More than 30 people move about the garden, preparing more than 500 square feet of now plantable earth. People are sharing stories with one another, laughing and joking. Other volunteers are teaching the neighborhood kids about the positive effects lady bugs have on the garden, while a classmate of mine helps one of Zumante’s brothers push the wheel barrow. This image is worth more than a million words.
Now alone, (my composting process is a tad bit tedious for others), I turn back to my compost pile, a fitting metaphor for life’s restoration, the great coming together of the human community, the way last year’s compost is introducing people from across the decades, from different backgrounds and cultures and experiences. I add some dried leaves, a handful of fresh-cut grass, and an additional layer of water to the compost. I take a deep breath and turn the lay over with my rake. I repeat the process. The laughter continues, so do the stories. Zumante would have enjoyed this.
I turn another layer, see the beautiful combination of plant matter and water and soil mixing together. I take another breath. We come from the earth. We return to it. I turn another layer. And along the way, if we allow a little soil to creep under our fingernails, the earth reminds us of the beating heart just beneath the soles of our everyday shoes.