A Green-Thumbed Writer Tells How His Two Loves Grow

I might be too avid a gardner to be a good writer. I left two unfinished essays and a short story I've been revising and walked down to see if the garden needed water.

It did, and I watered it. Then I picked up the long-tined rake and mixed the soil more thoroughly where I had spaded, mixed in manure, and watered heavily a week before. I mulched the bed where I had planted lettuce and onions the day before, and I watered the mulch so it would stay in place in the wind.

Fertilizer sat by the last area I spaded, waiting until I found time to mix it into soil. Perhaps I'm too avid a writer to be a good gardener. Sometimes I leave projects in the garden unfinished while I write at my desk.

Amanda, my youngest daughter, walked down the road and joined me in the garden. We looked at the growing plants. I told her the things I had planted that had not come up yet. We looked at the garlic she planted, which pushed through the soil and aimed green spears at the sun. She had planted in the shape of a symbol for peace. I liked that. The garden is a peaceful place. Peace is a powerful force.

I said, "The swallows take mud to build their nests, and they leave all these little holes."

Amanda said, "I certainly wouldn't begrudge them the mud, but don't they take seeds with the mud?"

"Some, I'm sure," I answered. "I plant densely, so everything always needs thinning. As long as they don't go overboard in one area, it won't hurt anything. The creek has dropped, and they're getting mud from that bank now."

The swallows flew up from the mud bank by the flowing water to the eaves of the building across the creek. They placed the mud, building nests that will hold their eggs, their young, the future of their species.

We like sharing the swallows' habitat. They are acrobats of the air, worth watching. They swoop, dive, and turn sharply in flight to catch insects for themselves and their young. Where there are many swallows, there are fewer mosquitoes, biting flies, and other troublesome insects.

The sun shone through clouds above the mountains west of us and cast tints of pink across the gray clouds to our east. Amanda said, "Ashes of roses." We shut the garden gate and walked home as the mountain evening turned cool.

I considered the questions I posed earlier. Does my garden interfere with my writing? Does my writing interfere with my gardening?

Writing for hours builds a need to get away from words for a while, to work with the soil, to build another kind of future, so that seeds planted now bring food to our table in weeks or months.

While I garden, ideas for essays and stories sprout in my mind. I carry the contemplative, at-ease feeling I find in the garden with me to my desk. I achieve a smooth flow of ideas and of words.

In the sunshine of the next morning, I stand in the garden, thinking about what needs completion. A hummingbird flies close to my face on singing wings, then quickly moves on to some flowers.

Cabbage plants and peas sprout from the damp soil, add leaves, and reach toward the sun. Ideas sprout in my mind, blossom, and bear fruit in the intense, high-elevation sunshine as I prepare soil for more seeds.

Back at my desk, I bring an essay together. Carrots, peas, garlic, and onions send roots deeper into the soil and grow toward the sun. Swallows warm the eggs in their nests

Swallows hatch, grow, push their eggshells from the nest to make more room, grow flight feathers, and learn to fly as I write, garden, and work for wages.

I harvest vegetables from the garden. They become part of what feeds us. Wildflowers, trees, marmots, coyotes, deer, elk, and wild birds grow around us and feed our need for beauty, our need to know we are part of the life force, an ever-continuing, seamless whole.

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