planting seeds

Early harvest: spinach, lettuce, radish, peas.

Usually I wait until Mother’s Day as the unofficial start of planting season in our hardiness zone but decide to get an early start for my spirit and body, as a healthy distraction from daily stresses that are compounded by the week. Digging in the dirt is so therapeutic, it’s long been my favorite way to get a break from the tsuris du jour of life at home, especially now with V not getting any of the supports or services he needs. The amount of time and energy it takes to grow a child with extensive constant needs is hard to comprehend if you aren’t living it; akin to a plant that needs watering and care a hundred times a day rather than a few times a week.

The days are long inside, but in the garden it’s so easy to lose track of time. Gardening by nature is a way to stay grounded. There is so much to do to prepare the soil, in our case mostly pulling up rocks that return every year and distributing egg shells, a recommendation made by my dear neighbor and friend J as a way to nurture the ground, now a yearly homage to her role as gardening rabbi to my nascent efforts as a suburban farmer. We were exactly the same age and her daughter a month younger than B; left motherless at the tender age of 15 when she died of cancer in her mid 50’s. In a time of thousands of lives cut short every day, early tragic deaths have become normalized in a way I never could have imagined when she passed away. I honor her memory every Spring as I save our egg shells and scatter them like ashes after breakfast.

Gardening, unlike writing, does not come naturally to me. While J was a Master Gardener I remained a permanent beginner (I used to say I had a purple thumb), similar to how I feel as a meditator and yoga practitioner. With so much emphasis on being expert these days, it’s a good exercise in humility, keeping what is called Beginner’s Mind. 

Gardening is also a good tool to get the creative juices flowing, akin to walking, a way to have space to let all the business of the mind eventually dissipate into something approximating clarity, something I can then work with here when I finally can get to a screen. Writing is so solitary. this blog especially so; I much prefer the collaborative work I’ve done as part of a team: working with an editor and graphic designer and someone to produce and publish and get the finished product out to an audience. I especially miss having someone else who has some distance to help with final edits, but it’s another exercise in humility and letting go to hit “post” when even after a dozen revisions it still feels only 90% there, to let that be good enough for now.

Planting seeds I can visualize those things that don’t feel realistic in daily life, changes I want in the year and decade ahead. (I have a big birthday next month so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like to see take root.) Gardening requires faith that some tiny barely visible item covered with dirt will germinate and burst through the ground if you give it enough water and sun and time. I use the opportunity to plant other seeds, setting intentions and letting myself imagine that which feels so impossible right now. I plant seeds for others too, like a metta meditation, sending out loving kindness to those who need it, a prayer for the challenges we each face.

I plant seeds for B and all those finishing up their schooling and entering an insecure unfamiliar world, hoping that world is big enough to recognize the strengths of those who have extra burdens or responsibilities, who show generosity and grace in helping their families – the tasks that don’t make it onto resumes but that build character and resilience.  

I plant seeds for  V and all those who are dysregulated and agitated and don’t understand why they can’t see their teachers and classmates and therapists and the carefully tended garden of supports that is so essential to their lives.

I plant seeds for caregivers of those needing extra help to alleviate the pain and fear of seeing loved ones regress without their needed supports. I send empathy as I am living this myself, a wish that we can all keep in mind impermanence, which gardening is a constant reminder of. We plant seeds and we tend them and we hope that they will grow and that the humble patch of dirt that looks so unpromising will bear fruit.

I plant seeds for surrogate aunts and nieces, grandparents and adult children, siblings, neighbors and others taking on special roles and responsibilities due to unusual circumstances to say the least and doing so with such generosity of spirit. I hope that they are appreciated and if not that they can feel a sense of good will at what they are doing.

I plant seeds of gratitude for those performing all the thankless jobs out there; one of the few upsides of this crisis is a recognition of essential work that is often ignored, that those doing it are being thanked in a way they never were before. The front line workers, like the mailman (even though he hates Ruby) and the cashier at our bodega who looks terrified behind his mask and shield, all the delivery people and health aides and cleaners and bus drivers still going in to jobs they would leave behind if they could afford to.

I plant seeds for those who are furloughed or without work, those struggling financially. May you have enough to eat, may you have electricity and power and internet service for your kids being home-schooled and for your sanity because TV can be a lifesaver, the best escape when being present gets too hard and if you are not fortunate enough to have outdoor space in which to find solace.

I plant seeds believing that something will grow, although probably not everything I hope for. I plant and try to let go of expectations and worry and what if and if only and things that serve no purpose. Something will burst through the dirt when it is time, all I can do is keep tending it as best I can.

10 thoughts on “planting seeds

  1. Nice to hear from you and sprinkle a little hope. I started a new garden this spring- turned the soil- it needs a lot of amendments and I can’t purchase anything like that now- its expensive to grow things without a functioning compost. This distancing doesn’t help either. But seedlings, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, squash, and string beans look good in the window cove. When it warms up just a little bit, we will transfer. thanks. *Daniel B. Gabel*


  2. As always, your posts make me cry.
    I hope all the seeds you sew sprout and grow.
    Happy Earth Day.


  3. Thanks Dan. I’m impressed – never felt I had the space or was well organized enough for window gardening. Keep me posted! ❤️


  4. What a beautiful metaphor and prayers that grow from you poignant writing, Joan. May all the seeds you plant get the nourishment and light they need to break through.


  5. This post brought tears to my eyes. Gardening is an act of hope and optimism. Thanks for ” planting seeds” for all those that need it. i am forwarding it to Lisa, she is my gardening guru and I know she will appreciate it.


  6. Thanks Sue
    We all need s gardening guru. And yes, there’s something optimistic in the act of gardening. 🍅


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