Julie woke up at six this morning and drove over to the community garden where she’s taken over the plot rented by friends of ours who are too busy to garden there this summer full time. She’s helping out. Besides, our friends know how much gardening means to Julie, and have generously allowed her to work their land (they may be gardening some there this summer, I dunno; I’m the kitchen guy in our house, not the garden guy). She just came in, glowing — and not only from the morning sun.
“I met this great old hippie who’s got a plot near ours,” she said. “Love that guy. [Name]’s been working his plot for over 10 years. He gave me lettuce to transplant. He was hilarious about ‘these so-called locavores these days.’ He said, ‘They come out here in April, and they work so hard getting everything in the ground, and then come July, they go to Cape May for a couple of weeks. They come back and are like, ‘Oh NO, where did all these weeds come from?!””
Julie went on about a sweet young Brazilian gardener who gardens with his Bluetooth device jammed into his ear. He told Julie this was his first year at gardening, and he appreciated advice from the veteran gardeners. She shared some of the horse manure haul she had stockpiled on her plot, and told him how to use it. Sunday afternoon Julie was out there, and got to talking with an older black man from North Carolina who works the plot next to hers. They exchanged sympathetic views on food politics. “He’s like African-American Pawpaw,” Julie said to me, likening the gentleman farmer to my father, which Julie means as a huge compliment.
The other day, two little kids belonging to another of the community gardeners scampered by, and introduced themselves. Somebody said something about a Sunday morning activity, and Julie told them that we went to church on Sunday morning. “We go to church too!” one of the kids said, all excited.
Julie got a story this morning from one of the old-timers at the garden, about how a few years back, the gardeners were vexed by a stand of weeds on the outside of the fencerow, which had grown so thick and compacted that it served as a stepladder for the deer to climb over the fence and maraud in the garden. The garden’s fussy overseers at the time proposed organizing a committee to study the impact on wildlife for whom the weed thicket was a habitat. One commonsensical old lady reacted to that by asking all the gardeners who were there one day to “give me just five minutes of your time.” She organized the crew and they went down the fencerow, chopping all the weeds down. It was a populist insurrection that solved the problem.
So Julie tells me all this, and I say to her, “You’ve got a real community in that garden. If I were you, I’d write about it.”
“I really do have a community,” she said. “But I could never write about it. That’s you. Me, I have to be in the moment. You can’t help standing apart from it to observe it, and to process it through observation. I just want to enjoy gardening.”
True. I can’t turn it off. I’m always writing, even when I’m not writing. The only way to disengage the mechanism is through drinking. This is why writers drink.
By the way, the hippie graybeard lettuce guy sent a head of fresh-cut iceberg home with Julie the other day. We ate it that night for dinner. I had no idea at all that iceberg lettuce could taste so flavorful.
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About Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher is director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that focuses on science, religion, economics and morality. A journalist with over 20 years of experience, Dreher has written for The Dallas Morning News, the New York Post, and other newspapers and journals. He is author of the book "Crunchy Cons." Archives of his previous Beliefnet blog, "Crunchy Con," can be found here. He and his family live in Philadelphia.