The Seventy-Sixth Letter: Afterthought Seeds & Garden Confessions

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Dear Daughters,

Deep breath.

I went out to pick veggies in our garden this afternoon and when I saw a weedy-looking tree sapling growing by the carrots, I pulled it out vigorously and tossed it into the yard with some other weeds. (I was a little surprised a sapling had grown up without my noticing it before, but I was pleased with my effort to rip it out.)

A minute later, I noticed another one just like it on the other side of the carrots, and that’s when I realized I had just yanked one of our two baby blueberry bushes.

Sigh.

Because it has been one of those days, the whole episode feels like a metaphor somehow:

Trying so patiently to grow something beautiful and then in a moment of carelessness, long before the seasons it will take to bear fruit, yanking it out by the roots.

And then haphazardly trying to bury it back down in the ground again, digging down to the good soil with your fingernails, watering deeply and thoroughly with a gallon-jug from the recycling bin.

Praying you haven’t done too much damage.

So much metaphor.

Girls, your dad and I have a reputation for being gardeny people, and I will confess to you that much of that reputation is decidedly undeserved. Clearly.

Sure, he grew up on a farm, and sure, I remember weeding at Grandma Lehman’s house in the summers, trying to learn the difference between weeds and flowers that she seemed to just know instinctively. I never could figure it out. Clearly.

But much of what your dad and I do know about gardening comes from trial-and-error-flavored conviction, and it started in some rather not-garden-friendly soil in Waco.

Since those early days of gardening as newlyweds in the Texas heat, we have gardened on and off, more or less, depending on the year. Some years we tilled up a huge plot in the yard. One of those years the whole plot flooded during heavy rain and our seeds washed away. Some years we helped out with our church’s community garden. Some years we’ve supported local farmers rather than grow our own veggies.

But we have this reputation as foody, gardeny, earthy people. Probably because your dad taught food ethics and had the students involved with a garden on campus property. And probably because people in Kentucky all know who Wendell Berry is. Probably also because I’ve written articles about the unexpected blessings of community gardens. And probably because I can be kind of preachy about things like fresh foods and cooking from scratch and the Mennonite cookbooks and, well, you know. You know I’m preachy.

Still, I confess to you, I feel like a newbie every time I plant a garden. Why can’t we ever get zucchini and squash plants to grow? Why do we never get enough cucumbers to pickle when other people we know have prolific harvests? Why did our cabbage shoot to two feet tall and then get eaten by bugs? Why does the basil planted at our house never grow to the heights of the same basil we plant at the community garden at the church?

I will never know the answers to these questions. (Except the cabbage one. I asked a farmer at the market about that and he gave me some advice.)

And also, I feel like an amateur because no matter how much we do end up growing, no matter our successes and failures, I am completely astounded by the miracle of every single flower that appears on our plants. And when it comes to harvesting actual vegetables we can eat? I mean, girls, I am as excited about it as you are. It feels so undeserved. It feels like privilege. It is.

I mean, how the heck do these seeds work? How does good soil and some watering and some sunshine produce such undeserved bounty? It’s no wonder so many parables are about seeds and growing and provision and the Kingdom of God.

If I’m not careful, I’m going to start preaching again.

And you get so excited about the green beans in particular. You’re proud of yourselves that you can take your little red sandbucket over to the garden and find yourself a snack.

This year, we have a raised bed the length of the house. We’ve got the aforementioned blueberry bushes, which will hopefully remain plural, and I did buy some other veggie plants on sale late in the season, but much of what is growing out there right now in the muggy heat of this late-July day was from afterthought seeds dug out of our freezer, tossed into the ground without much planning.

Without much planning and without expectation that they would grow. (We didn’t know if the freezing had preserved the seeds or not. It was trial and error in that regard too. We don’t remember when the seeds were originally purchased.)

The dozens of beans you’ve picked this year all came from those afterthought seeds.

I’m astounded.

I’m serious. Every time that something grows, I am astounded at the miracle of it.

I really am.

Today, after pulling out that blueberry bush and chiding myself—half embarrassed and half angry, I’ll admit—the garden yielded a half-dozen carrots, a cucumber, a handful of beans, and four cherry tomatoes.

It’s not much but it’s still hope incarnate.

It’s the Kingdom of God, right here in our garden.

It’s God’s faithfulness exhibited in the goodness of creation, the goodness of wonder and taste and dirt and roots.

It’s poetry, girls. Poetry.

And so, I’m clinging to that goodness, that faithfulness, that hope: maybe the blueberry bush will make it.

Maybe.

Because this whole gardening business is just chock-full of metaphor. Even the mess-ups.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixty-Sixth Letter: Tiny Wonders

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Dear Daughters,

I found a set of fairy wings on the kitchen floor a few days ago, and when I picked them up–because a corner of one of the wings had been a few inches under the stove–they dragged a bunch of other stuff out, too.

A huge dust bunny, of course. That’s a given in our house. (No shame.) Also some shriveled Cheerios, and we haven’t bought Cheerios in some time. And then the top half of an acorn. Just the little cap.

See, last fall, a friend of mine had dried and shellacked dozens of acorns to serve as autumnal decoration at our shared poetry reading, and afterward she asked you if you wanted them to play with. You, of course, did. Some of them were spraypainted gold.

You love small things.

You have little treasure boxes and assorted bags where you keep your special items. You’ve kept those little acorns for many months now, though occasionally I find one crunching under my feet in the shaggy rug in the living room.

Acorns are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

Anything small can make the cut, as far as what you ask to keep to play with. Clips or rubberbands. Coins of assorted countries’ currency. Little tiny snips of paper you cut out around words you’ve written with hearts. Rocks. Beads. If we let you, you try to sneak the plastic ring from the top of milk jugs.

And that’s not to mention all the small plastic cartoon figurines from myriad television shows that we’ve inherited from friends. So many small things. Everywhere. Underfoot. Under furniture. Hidden amongst the plastic dinnerware of your play kitchen. Piled in the bathtub of your dollhouse.

You love small things.

Of course, now that dandelions are showing up in the yard, you’re pretty obsessed with them, too. You pick them and want to put them in vases and make me smell them, you count them, you get excited when we walk by neighbors’ yards that are covered densely dotted with yellow. You think those people are really lucky to have such a pretty yard.

We’ve also got little purple and white flowers blooming on weeds throughout our yard. Because that’s the kind of yard we have. It’s mostly groundcover, not grass. These tiny flowers suit you perfectly.

A few weeks ago, the preschooler’s show-and-tell assignment was to bring something that could fit in your pocket. Your pockets are pretty small. You selected a plastic Coca-Cola bottle cap with the tiniest of snail shells tucked inside of it. I had to put them into a plastic bag so they wouldn’t get lost in your backpack.

You’d found the snail shell in the sand under the deck, sand that I repeatedly ask you not to play with but you can’t resist scooping up and “watering” out of your drink cup. You asked if you could bring the shell inside, and I agreed, once I was pretty sure there was nothing living in it.

And so it went to school with you for show and tell.

This tiny wonder of a snail shell.

I love your love of the tiny.

I love your wonder.

It frustrates me too, of course. I’m not going to lie.

It’s one thing to be asked to stop and smell the roses but dandelions? I don’t always want to smell them, especially after you’ve been twisting and yanking on the onion grass in our yard and all I can smell is that garlicky yuck I know you’re smearing on your pants as you come jogging over to me.

I don’t want to slow down to watch the bugs crawling on the deck, the ants dismantling an old goldfish cracker, the “spider” which is probably some other random insect but the toddler calls everything “spider.”

I don’t always feel like pausing to listen to a noise that is so quiet and distant it really doesn’t matter to me. But it matters to you. And you want to have a conversation about what it might be.

Yes, I can be a stereotypical grown-up who loses my patience with these interruptions. I’ll admit it.

But some days: some days I do pause, take notice, listen.

Some days I squat beside you, invite you up onto my wooden swing, garlicky hands and all.

Sometimes I encourage you to try to feed the robin in our yard who I know will always be just out of reach.

Sometimes I come over and inspect that hole by the picnic table and chat with you about chipmunks and snakes and why you may not poke your stick down there.

Some days I count out your “monies” with you, whether they are US currency or not.

Some days I agree to go hunting for the Katerina Kitty Kat figurine, or O the Owl, or the particular Daniel Tiger you’re looking for. (For some reason you prefer the one with the white T-shirt, rather than the red T-shirt or the red sweater. Why in the world do they make so many variations?) But I help you look under the couch cushions.

Some days.

Some days, I wonder at the tiny. Because you remind me to.

And most days, at some point, I wonder at your wonder.

But every day, girls, every day:

I wonder at you.

Love,

Your Momma