Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Gate That is Always Unlocked

Ruth Stafford Peale was married to
Norman, her famous husband. She died
in 2008 at the age of 102. 
About a month ago, I crept up to the gate of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust's Community Garden on my bike, lost my balance and slowly tipped over on the soft grass. The handlebar wedged into the top part of my bra. I jumped up in a quick recovery, and looked around to see if anyone saw the mishap. After I determined was safe from scrutiny,  I walked the bike in and took a look around. Moments later, I was fortunate to meet Ms.Corie, the cheerful volunteer coordinator who gave me a brochure with an email address. A few days later, I was back to pull weeds when it was discovered that corn maggots had eaten all the pea and that a weed-choked garden of perennials needed attention.

The phrase "Find a need and fill it.” has been credited to Ruth Stafford Peale, Pastor Tommy Barnett and Henry Kaiser. And so I have set to work over recent weeks.  Wheelbarrows of weeds got dumped into the pit, the flowers in the garden were uncovered and transplanted in beds of rich compost. I hauled rocks to create borders and woodchips to make paths. From a mishmash of neglect, I tended until a garden emerged.

Unlike my prolific perennial gardens at my house in Anchorage, this place will always be in community ownership. As long as I will come to Brunswick to see my parents, I can take a short jaunt across the street, past a small patch of rare lady slipper orchids tucked away in a small patch of forest, and head over to the gate that is always unlocked.

The compost bins with some flowers from a personal plot. 
The garden grows produce for the local food bank, while also hosting about 60 10x10 community plots nurtured by the people who rent them for the summer.  There’s plenty of tools in the shed, and compost. mulch and chips for the loose soil, now in its 4th summer of production. It's all organic, rich and teeming with spiders, worms, ladybugs, an occasional spotted salamander and other beneficials.

 When the sun shines, I can run a hose for watering, fill up the watering can from the tank or the crop volunteers can water the seedlings with drip irrigation-- all water pumped with solar energy.  There has been thought and investment in the land: the good spirit exudes. Birds flit about constantly.

Recently planted squash with a perennial bed in the foreground.
One of the 2 water tanks is in the background.  

This garden is the tangible manifestation of community,abundance, and of ripening potential. After a long winter, all of the resolute perennials emerge, fresh shoots coming up from the brown shells of last year's growth. The day lilies' buds form in the early summer, still wrapped in their fresh green sheets, while he Forget-Me-Nots have already gone to seed to set the foundation for future blooms. The perennial plant's low maintenance determination emerges to greet the sun and form the infrastructure for another summer of growth and beauty.

I'm deeply connected to the soil through all the physical process: crouching on hands and knees, invading into the base of a tap root with a tool and prying, or tugging persistently on an overgrown set of root bundles, and learning deep into the shovel around a plant that needed moving. There is another deep, nearly reverential bliss that comes from the process of moving about on land. My small terrace garden in Phnom Penh was a giggle compared to the robust belly laugh that my body experiences in this space.

The garden surrounded by open grass fields, then the stands of tall pines that form a barrier to the larger organic farm that is also part of the Land Trust holdings.  The Common Good gardens, particularly the perennial beds, are the result of many individual efforts over the past four years since the Community Garden was started. The flowers needed a little attention, another push to keep the momentum going
The weed pit with a few of the past year's pits now
covered. It's a good idea to let the bad stuff get buried

The "back 40 bed" that I just started
on yesterday was also quite overgrown
Over the past month of earnest effort, I have now adopted the plants and the space. The plots have not only been an anchor in a long series of days filled with optimism and fear for whatever unknown future emerges, but also a terrific reason to be outside. No one asks why you are standing out in the middle of a garden looking at the clouds whisk across the fresh blue sky.  

In these recent days, I have been waiting more eagerly on a decision that will determine the next step of my professional life. I find myself struggling with restlessness, caught now in a patch of doldrums waiting for a breeze to form.  In the meantime, I go back to the earth,filled with gratitude for a peaceful, healthy space and something to do.

The end of the first phase of work for this garden.
Lots of hours here!