Taking Care


 

 

“Take care.” It’s a popular thing to say, as friends part, or end a phone call.

There’s a great need now to take care in our culture. I’m seeing a lot of pain, a lot of anxiety, a lot of doubt and uncertainty as to who we are as a nation and a culture. There’s a lot of doubt, of losing a sense of purpose.

When I watch the evening news, or peruse the headlines in the paper, I find myself emotionally wringing my hands, or throwing them up in anger. I’m close to my boiling point.

“What can I do about it?” I wonder. How can I take care?

Not much, I’ve concluded. But I can make a difference where I live.

I can take care in my community. And, it is something I can do, rather than sit on the couch, tap my foot, and bemoan to my wife about how things could be different. Talking back to the TV doesn’t seem to do anything.

A few weeks ago, a friend suddenly lost his son. It was a great tragedy, but what could I do? I still don’t know what I can do, but I did reach out to him. I went to his house and just sat with him, letting him talk, letting us sit there in silence. He was not alone, and I just listened. I went with him to the funeral home, and prayed with him, holding him as he cried.

At the funeral, I spoke the words he wanted said. I welcomed people, listened to them, and held them close. We cried and we grieved, and my friend was not alone.

A friend should not grieve alone, and there was a community of grief, holding my friend close. And, maybe that’s all that we can do, grieving together, taking care of each other, in that awful journey of grief and shock and bewilderment.

“I don’t know how to do this,” my friend said.

“None of us do,” I replied. “But we take care of ourselves and each other.”

“That’s all we can do.”

Another friend had a heart attack, and I sent my prayers, a few words of comfort, a message of “take care”. And, he is, and I am.

Another friend needed to talk, to get a worry off their chest, and let it out. So, I listened, and loved them, and listened some more. As we parted, we said those words, “take care”, and we will and we did.

I cared for a public space this morning, a small garden in a parking lot, often busy with people on a mission, with business to take care of, the never ending errands of life. I pruned, weeded, planted new plants, and added some fertilizer just before the next spring shower poured down. Most visitors won’t notice it, but some will. And, this summer, as the plants grow and bloom, and the empty spaces fill in, there will be some beauty to be enjoyed, a quiet respite on a busy day. That garden will “take care” of someone in need of that quiet moment.

What I did wasn’t much and it won’t make the evening news, but in other ways it was a lot. I made a small difference in one corner of the world.

I “took care” and, in this crazy world, that makes a difference.

 

–Neal Lemery

4/14/2017

 

 

Believing In Tomorrow


 

 

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
–plaque in a public botanical garden started by a nurseryman.

Recently, I’ve visited several gardens, taking in their winter beauty, the quiet, the restful time before Spring gets started.
One garden was the kitchen garden begun by a Jesuit missionary in the 1690s. Walking hundreds of miles through the desert to a dry, almost abandoned area, he brought a new religion and new crops to a community on the verge of starvation.
His first task was to build a church, but I’m sure near the top of his list, like any gardener, was laying out and planting the beginnings of his garden. An irrigation ditch soon brought essential and dependable water. Plants from his beloved Italy found new homes. In a few years, an orchard flourished, and grains and vegetables supplemented the local diet of roots, seeds, and other traditional local fare.
The herbs were planted in orderly beds, near the tomatoes, peppers and other plants that thrived in the hot, sunny climate. An ancient wrought iron hoe laid against a gnarled fruit tree, likely the third or even fifth generation of the first orchard planted here. I wondered how many generations of gardeners had held that hoe, steadily weeding and tending this fertile space next to the church.
A substantial adobe storage building wasn’t very far away, a symbol of the bounty of this land and the investment in sustainable agriculture, 1700s style. Inside, large terra cotta bowls stored next year’s seeds, and the winter supply of the year’s harvest.
The priest must have smiled, seeing his garden feed his parishioners, helping the community to thrive and grow. How many gardeners started here, gently nurtured by others, learning of the miracles of seeds, the tending of plants, the pleasures of harvest?
In good years, there was enough surplus resources so that the villagers could make more adobe bricks, hew more wood beams brought from the forests in the mountains. They slowly added on to the church, making it into a bigger symbol of their faith in God, a rising symbol of their success as a community.
Now, the ruins of the church dominates this place, bringing visitors, teaching us of old ways, the power of faith.
Yet, the real church, the real symbol of faith is here in this simple garden.
Over three hundred years later, the Jesuit’s garden still produces fruit, and the irrigation ditch still brings water to this thirsty garden. In a few months’ time, a new gardener will plant tomatoes and peppers, prune the orchard, trim the rosemary and deadhead the oregano. The new gardening year will start again.
That Jesuit priest left his mark here, his love of the land and his design still apparent to those who now visit his garden. If I began the spring work, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him looking over my shoulder, perhaps even discussing where to set out the tomatoes this year. We probably could talk for hours about this place, how to make it an even better garden for next year, for yet another year of tomorrow.

–Neal Lemery 1/11/2017

Another Nice Review of Homegrown Tomatoes


A garden has countless lessons to teach, and in his second collection of essays set in the garden at the Tillamook County Oregon Youth Authority, Homegrown Tomatoes: Essays and Musings from my Garden, former judge Neal Lemery reflects upon what he’s learned in his volunteer capacity, teaching and toiling with the youth. Also included are lessons learned involving members of his community and his friends. Each essay in this collection deals with one of the “big” issues in life we all encounter, young or old.

The garden for Mr. Lemery and the incarcerated youth is more than a garden—it’s a metaphor for life in a general sense, and a place for everyone to be nourished, with wisdom, honor, and respect; a place for listening and conversing, questioning and finding answers, all while completing mundane chores such as weeding and washing dishes.

Whether you are a young parent looking for helpful parenting tips, a mentor, a teacher, or a person looking to live an authentic, joyful life, this book is a treasure chest of heartwarming stories and ideas to help you along your way.

 

— by Youth Advocate

A Nice Review for Homegrown Tomatoes


5.0 out of 5 stars

A Homegrown Miracle of a Book—Rhonda Case

 

 

What to say about the miracle that is this little book? The author, Neal Lemery, has written a small masterpiece. This collection of short, powerful pieces moved this reader to tears again and again. “Homegrown Tomatoes” has the power to move all readers to new ways of speaking, listening and taking action in our own backyards and communities, as healers and peacemakers.

Something of a soul brother to the philosopher/writer and mystic gardener, Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf school movement and of “biodynamic” gardening) Neal Lemery believes in the inherent goodness and limitless potential of each human he meets. He believes in the power of education and sees that Nature can be our wisest, most gentle teacher and healer.

Lemery’s essays, like the parables of Jesus, are grounded in the most “ordinary” of human experiences: observations of plants and of birds, moments of kindness offered to those who have been marginalized in society, zen-like questions about what we truly value and where we show up with compassion for others.

The most powerful essays are those where Judge Lemery lets us enter his “secret garden” at the OYA. We are privileged to be there with him as he meets the young men incarcerated for juvenile offenses, some of them serving long years in prison.

We’re there as Neal cooks, listens, plays cards, gardens, laughs and cries with these young men. What obstacles they have overcome despite their failures! We are allowed to share his sorrow at how much betrayal and suffering too many children endure. We are privileged to witness how seeds of Hope are still present even in the dark, cold winter soil of these lives that have known too much pain — just waiting for the warmth of kindness and rays of compassion to bring the spirit back to life.

Lemery’s essays inspire us to believe that we too can be transformed if we “tend our garden.” His poetry and prose reminds us that we can allow Life and Beauty to grow around and through our own hands, provided we sharpen and value our “garden tools” (our unique gifts) and this book has reminded me that the time to get started is always NOW.

Highly recommended for teens, teachers, counselors, parents, social workers, gardeners, poets and judges! Would make a great Christmas gift or selection for your Book Group for Spring 2017.

Homegrown Tomatoes…information about my book…


Here’s some information about my new book, available at Amazon

 

Growing young men is much like tending a garden. Retired judge Neal Lemery does both, working as a volunteer mentor in a youth prison. The author of Mentoring Boys to Men: Climbing Their Own Mountains, he continues his musings and observations about building community and enriching the lives of young men, by being present in their lives, and offering them support and emotional strength. He offers us hope in troubled times, and helps answer the question: “What can I do to make a better world?”

Just Washing the Dishes


 

 

It was a busy day in the prison garden on a hot day. We took on a few weedy flower beds and set to work, creating several wheelbarrow loads of weeds, and unburied dozens of flowers and herbs from the lush growth of summertime weeds. They had gotten a head start on us with stretches of warm weather and summer showers.

Our work was made lighter by the telling of stories and knowing that fresh shortbread and warm rhubarb and strawberry sauce with ice cream awaited us at the end of the class time. The teacher always has a way of motivating the crew.

At the end of the first hour, we stored our tools, dumped our weeds and washed up for our next activity: flower arranging.

I saw looks of skepticism on the faces of our young gardeners as one of the other volunteers brought out the floral arranging bases and foam blocks. Soon, their hesitant looks turned serious, as they began to plan their individual works of art. Once again, the gardening class offered something new and exciting, challenging them to use their talents and grow their skills.

The young gardeners were busied themselves fashioning their own arrangements from the piles of shrubs, herbs, and mid summer flowers.   They put their individual touches to their work, and soon, there was a lovely selection of beautiful flower arrangements in the center of the table.

Even the most hesitant young florist immersed himself into the project. Conversations and questions about texture, color wheels and flower selections filled the air as they set to work.

The hoop house, our schoolroom, filled with many of their propagated works, became a florist shop, and our focus could turn to our mid morning snack. The just baked shortbread and freshly simmered strawberry-rhubarb sauce filled our noses with delight, and we quickly formed a line to create our own culinary delight. The promise of ice cream in the morning also enticed us.

Our plates filled, we gathered around the fire circle, and fell into relaxed conversations. I caught up with their challenges and successes, both in the garden and in their lives. Proudly, they showed me their vegetables and flowers, their chickens, their compost, and the new additions to their garden.

Our time grew short and I gathered up the plates and forks, and the glasses that had been drained of the special iced mochas that quenched our thirst this August day.

I started washing the dishes and was soon joined by a young man who offered to help. He didn’t want me to take on the task, saying that it was a boring, mundane thing for me to do.

“Oh, I rather like it,” I said. “Washing dishes gives me time to do some thinking, organizing my day and planning ahead.

“I get necessary work done, and I also get some ‘me’ time,” I said.

“I enjoyed the weeding this morning for the same reason,” I added.

He nodded, his ears taking in a new idea on what he had said was a minor task, not worthy of my time.

“It’s not a minor thing,” I said, “Cleaning up helps everyone, and builds community. Every job is important.”

He nodded.

“I guess so,” he said. “I never thought of it that way.”

“I see what you mean,” he said. “Even though it doesn’t seem like an important job, it really is.”

Our time was up. Class was over and he needed to go.

“I’ll finish this up,” I said. “I promise not to have too much fun.”

He laughed.

“Do some thinking for me, then,” he said.

 

We grinned at each other, building another bridge between the old guy gardening guy who comes here once a week, and the young man, whose garden of his soul grows well in the springtime of his life.

 

 

8/13/2016

Taking A Moment To Be Still


It was unusual for me, just sitting there in my garden, being still and looking around.

I’d had a long session with the trowel, the weed eater, and my hand pruners, attacking the weeds, setting out some plants, and generally tidying up my shade garden. Sweaty, dirty and tired, I found a chair and a bottle of water and decided to catch my breath.

At first, I looked at what I’d done, and what I needed to do, mentally composing additions to my “to do” list.

This is becoming a job, I thought. Gardening is a lot of work, and I’m tired.

Maybe I should just take a moment and enjoy all of this, my own quiet corner of the world. I could let the sweat dry, thinking its OK that I just take a break.

Lately, when I’ve been reading about gardening, I’m nose deep into the science and the methodologies about how to grow the best of whatever is involved in my latest garden project.

In the midst of research on an interesting new plant, I’d come across a quote about gardening and my soul.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
― Ray Bradbury

Take a moment, take a breath, and enjoy the garden for what it is, I reminded myself. Too often, my time here becomes an obligation, a project. Hurry up, get it done, and move on to the next task.

But, I am a gardener, not a laborer. Gardening really is nurturing, and being IN the garden. It is a time to nurture this place and my soul, to find peace, to let my mind be still and just BE. After all, I am a human being, not a human doing.

And, so I became still, and sat there. A swallow was building a nest in the new birdhouse, a hummingbird was enjoying the honeysuckle in bloom, sunlight played on the rhododendron bursting out in full glory. I breathed in the fresh air, and all the smells of spring.

In the distance, a neighbor was mowing her lawn, and a farmer was tilling his field. Off in the forest, a logger’s chainsaw provided the bass line for the house finch’s serenade in the snowball bush.

The real beauty in the garden, I realized, was not all the work I’d done, though I certainly had provided some tidying up and structure to this little piece of paradise. But, I realized, the real joy in this place is all the creatures and plants that make this their home.

I’m only the host, and I only add a few of the finishing touches.

And, I realized, the most important part of my job here, as a gardener, is to sit in a chair, and just be here, finding my own peace, and be part of this magnificent paradise, to simply be in this moment.
5/16/16