Acts of Faith: Gardening feeds body and soul

I have long thought that putting those first seeds into the ground is akin to an act of faith. Is it too soon? Is it warm enough? Will there be enough moisture? Too much? Will the seeds sprout? Or rot?
If nothing else, it feels good to get my hands back into the soil while taking stock of winter damage and looking forward to what’s to come. The lengthening days, occasionally bright with sun, light my imagination of what the vegetable garden could look like this summer, but while winter still has its tentative hold, and we light a fire at night, I can’t bear the thought of putting seeds into ground that is sodden and cold with temperatures below freezing at night.
In March my friend Jane sprinkles lettuce seeds on snow, and as the snow melts, the tiny seeds settle into the surface of wet ground (I could have done that with the poppy seeds I collected last fall — but I forgot). She has tiny fresh greens now. My friend Steve has spinach that over wintered, with no covering. He is eating it. Abi and Barbara planted their peas weeks ago, around Easter.
But not me, not this year.
Last year I planted seeds in March under tunnels: cold weather crops like brassicas (broccoli), spinach, kale, fava beans, lettuce and peas. Humid and warm in the tunnels, the green sprouts and damp earth smell were a tonic to this winter-fatigued soul.
But not this year. I have had too much work and have been unable to take the time to start seeds or get outside.
That is, until last Monday. I had planned to put my peas into the ground no later than April 15. The day dawned sunny and clear. But there were meetings to go to, calls to be made, paintings to finish, manuscripts to be edited, music to learn, emails to respond to. The time for the initial planting of seeds got shoved aside.
Then the reports started coming in from Boston. With memories of 9/11 coming back to vivid life, still reeling from the horror recently unleashed in Newtown, Conn., those feelings of sadness and dread, shock and disbelief once again came crashing into the cocoon that is my life.
I quickly contacted the friends who usually run in the Boston Marathon, located one son who was in Boston for the day, made sure my other son who lives near Boston, hadn’t gone to witness the marathon for a lark. Stayed by the radio.
And that was only the beginning of a week. Buckling once again to well-funded lobbyists who represent an industry and a minority of the American people, our elected officials showed that they do not care about the majority of Americans when it comes to initiating a dialogue about common sense gun control. Poison pen letters, laced with ricin, came into offices in Washington, D.C. A firestorm swept away a Texas town with the explosion of a fertilizer factory. Massacres continued in Syria. And as tropical winds blazed across Vermont on Friday, Boston went into a lockdown in the search for the marathon bombers after a fire fight erupted around the corner from close friends who texted us at 5:30 a.m.: “Still safe after terrifying night.” Saturday saw a shooting in Middlebury.
I had to go into the garden. I planted peas for the marathon runners. I got my hands dirty for the people who ran toward the explosions to help. Raking, digging, dividing, lifting, I started clearing away the winter debris. I planted more seeds: kale, fava beans, dill, spinach, broccoli raab. I put in the onion sets, planted the shallots.
I took stock. The chamomile has spread, lush and green. The garlic is 6 inches high. The sorrel is almost ready for picking; it’s cousin, the rhubarb, is just unfolding its red-green leaves. Under the winter cover of dead leaves, the perennials in the cold ground thrust fiercely, inexorably, toward the warmth and light of the sun.
I love the determination of plants in spring.
What to do? I look at the oil portraits I am making right now of young people full of hope and dreams headed out into the world. What is this world our generation is leaving them? How will they face the randomness and violence eating into our culture? How will they face the changes wrought by growing climate chaos? What will their lives become? How will they — how do any of us — find balance?
Earth Day, John and I went with the youth group from the Unitarian-Universalist Church to work in the garden at Nash Farm, where a community of volunteers raises thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables for the Community Lunch Program and HOPE. As the owners of Nash Farm pruned the apple trees, the youths raked the mulch off the garden, pulled weeds, edged the bed, carted away the refuse, started planning for mulching, and got the soil ready for planting. Another team will come to plant the first seeds next week. We will return to continue planting and weeding, working together for other people, outside, our hands in the dirt.
Planting as an act of faith — and a refuge.
Editor’s note: Kate Gridley is accomplished in many pursuits, including the art of making things grow, and may yet be convinced to provide an occasional column this season on gardening.

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