Becoming Worthy of Himself: Reflections on the Master Gardeners’ Class at OYA.


“Tim” is fully engaged. His hand flies up; he’s ready with the answer. This newest Master Gardener apprentice shares his observations, his conclusions, and where we should go next with our work. He’s read and re-read the text, and answered the homework questions with confidence.

Today’s topic in our Master Gardeners’ class is soils. Our teacher gets into it quickly, leading us through the various dimensions, the biology, the chemistry, the geology, and the mystery of it all. And Tim is in the middle of it, soaking it up, loving the complexity, and engaging in the thinking our teacher is calling us to do. His mental wheels are turning fast.

I’m Tim’s mentor, and today, a tutor, a teacher’s aide. My work is easy, a few words of encouragement, an occasional observation. I sit back and just enjoy him for who he has become.

A few years ago, he was lost. He’d done his required work in the youth prison, even finishing high school and then helping others. But, nothing fired up his passion, and life here was becoming just a matter of serving out the rest of his sentence.

Then, he discovered the garden, and the mystery of cultivating that is the joy and the passion of gardening. Wonderful things happened here, and he could be a part of that. He could be the magician and the scientist, the expert on various bugs and herbs, growing into a nurturer and a teacher. Tim was becoming the plant, sending out roots, spreading his leaves, and thriving in this newly discovered soil in his life.

Knowledge and the ability to be a part of the wonders of nurturing life, and exploring the unlimited world of plants and bugs touched his heart. He belonged in this work, and it fed his soul.

Now, the Master Gardeners class is his focus, and he has embraced it with everything in his being. He is in the midst of this class of questioners, deep thinkers in the ever expanding world of common, every day dirt.

I help him work through the math formulas and problems for the fertilizer questions. I watch him realize that the dull, abstract work in his math classes is nothing like the excitement of learning how best to fertilize his garden, and make his plants grow.

“This is fun,” he says.

He laughs then, shaking his head.

“I never thought I’d say that math problems are fun.”

We look at the slides of plants with various deficiencies from their soil, and talk about how to correct that, improving the plants by improving the soil and the nutrients, applying our newly found knowledge and thinking. He is becoming the botanist, the chemist, the scientist, the better lover of life itself.

He smiles, he scribbles notes, he’s totally absorbed in what we are doing, and where this class is taking him.

Tomorrow, he’ll be out in the garden, working his magic, growing his roots, growing into a healthy, complete man.

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” –E E Cummings.

–Neal Lemery 4/19/2016

Sharpening Our Tools


There’s always a lesson for me in the garden, especially when I’m the teacher.

The young men gathered around the table, looking at me, leery about the day’s agenda. The pile of our trusty and well-used pruning shears, weeding forks, and trowels, and my odd assortment of files, oil cans, rags and steel wool was raising some puzzled looks.

“We’re going to sharpen our tools,” I said. “And that will make us better gardeners.”

I talked about dirt and grit, and how dull, rusty tools slow us down, and make our work harder. I talked about rain and damp, and getting rid of rust with a bit of oil wiped on a newly cleaned surface.

“If you take care of your tools, they will last a lifetime,” I said. “It’s a great gift to yourself.”

I talked about how pruners work, whether anvil or bypass, and why the blades are different. I picked up a file, showing them how to hone a blade, bringing out the edge. Doing a good job was all in how you finished it, by gently taking off the burrs on the edge, bringing out the best of the blade, and ourselves.

The metaphors were not lost on these young men, struggling to remake their lives, and move on to managing their lives in a decent, productive way.

I showed them how to do the work, and then urged them to pick a tool, and do their magic.

“The right tool for the right job,” I said, echoing my grandfather’s wisdom I’d heard when I was a young man.

Curious, eager minds asked dozens of questions, and, again, I showed them how to hone the blades, taking their eager hands into mine, helping them grip the file and set to work.

They found their way, getting a sense of that feel, of file meeting blade, steel against steel, until the newly bright edges met their standards of completion and excellence. Rust and dirt were buffed away, and a new coat of oil made hinges and springs smooth and silent. Grime and dirt were banished, the young hands feeling how they brought back the life and beauty of the tools they’d used this past year.

One young man kept doing it differently, missing what I was trying to teach. I was gentle with him, explaining everything again and again. I felt my patient grandfather in me, as I took his hand and the file, and began the lesson again.

Uncertain frowns gave way to smiles and shared accomplishments, the pleasure of making something as good as new. I saw young men restoring something to its original good purpose, gaining pride in who they were, and knowing what they could do.

We sharpened all of our tools today, and we sharpened some lives, too. I sensed my grandfather’s arm around me, holding me tight, whispering how proud he was of how I sharpened my tools.

–Neal Lemery 1/23/2016

Growing Our Garden


 

 

On Fridays, I garden. I drive down the road to a community garden, ready for a morning of planting, weeding and, often, harvesting.

I join a group of young men, and we set to work. Together, we tackle our list of chores and get the jobs done. I work up a good sweat, my muscles get tired, and we add a few smudges of dirt to our faces. We laugh, sharing the simple joys of a day in the garden.

We take a break and look at what we’ve accomplished. Every week brings new projects, and fresh results.

We surround ourselves with all the elements of a healthy garden.   We make sure we use substantial and complex soil, rich fertilizer, fresh air, sunshine, water, and tender care. Each plant gets its own place in the garden, and is encouraged to flourish. If there is a need for water or fertilizer or a little pruning, we are quick to respond, doing our work in nurturing and care taking.

The plants look great, but we’ve really been growing healthy young men.

And these young men flourish. They get the attention and care they need. They find their place in our work, and are encouraged to send their roots down into the soil. They open themselves to the warmth and sunshine we all share. They are hungry for this work, and eagerly take on their roles in raising chickens, planting seeds, in the designing and building of raised beds, compost bins, and trellises. They learn to plan their projects, to plant and harvest. Over the fire, they cook a meal from the vegetables they have grown, tasting and savoring what their hands have grown in the dirt, nourishing themselves with what they have grown.

They become connected to the earth, and the food that they eat. The garden sunshine brightens their lives and feeds their souls. They build community in their work and by their conversations around the campfire.

For many of them, this is their first experience at growing things, and in being caretakers. They become gardeners, not just of their community garden, but of their own lives. In their work, they make the connection between this work and the work they are doing to rebuild their lives, growing into healthy young men.

We do this work behind a prison fence, yet there are freedoms here these young men have never had. They grow here, encouraged to find themselves, and to see themselves as more than men scarred by the traumas and poisons of troubled, directionless childhoods. This is a place of new beginnings, new opportunities. Old wounds are healed and they can move ahead, becoming healthy men.

I treasure the simple moments, the quiet, one-on-one time with a young man, as we plant a flower box, or weed the potatoes, slice some tomatoes, or pick and shell some beans. Just a couple of gardeners, but so much more goes on here, more than the eye can see.

Sometimes, we sit around the campfire, cooking some food, toasting a marshmallow or roasting a hot dog, or just reflecting on what we’ve done in the garden. Soon, stories are being told, experiences shared, observations made. Guys being their true selves, deepening their friendships, and talking about their growing strengths and talents. They are farmers talking about their crops, and how they are making some improvements, tending their crops, growing their lives.

I’m the old man in this crowd, the guy with the gray hair, who just shows up and offers a helping hand, maybe a word or two of advice. I like to be quiet, taking it all in, letting them take the lead in whatever we are working on, watching them ask their questions and talk out the solutions, finding answers.

They need to be in charge here, the gardeners of their own garden. Part of our harvest is growing strong leaders, people who can take charge of their own lives, and make their own way in life.

They come up to me, wanting me to notice their work. They ask me questions, seeking my advice, and not just about gardening.

They are hungry young men, hungry for attention, for someone to affirm them, and recognize them for the goodness they hold inside of themselves. I show up, say good morning, and ask them how they are doing. We work together, as farmers and as life long learners of how to live a good, productive life. The other adults at the garden do that too, and the young men respond with smiles, their eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.

We take time to measure our harvest, counting and weighing our produce, admiring the beauty and abundance of what the boys have grown.

Yet, there is more to the harvest than all the tomatoes and corn, chicken eggs and dried herbs. I count the smiles and the looks of pride and confidence I see in their faces. These young men have grown this summer in so many ways than what we see in their vegetables and flowers.

Their strength and their resilience shine in their faces today, and their newfound abilities to grow their own lives is the real essence of the harvest of our garden.

 

 

–Neal Lemery 9/14/2015

Planting Our Gardens


 

This was a week of planting flowers.

A few days ago, I’m able to tend some flowers in our town’s community garden. Over a cup of coffee, a young man and I talk about changing attitudes in this community. Two street preachers have periodically shown up on Main Street, condemning homosexual love, accosting young people, telling them they are going to hell.

One brave high school girl made a sign, and stood next to them on the street corner, contradicting their views. Her hand-lettered sign spoke of the idea that love is the highest human value, that everyone should be able to love who they choose to love, that homosexual love is an aspect of Christian love and compassion.

She was joined by others, and a Facebook group was created, #TillamookForLove, its members now close to 3,000. The preaching and the counter demonstrations became the talk of the town. The young girl’s actions were mentioned around the world, tweeted by Ellen DeGeneres and becoming a featured story in the Huffington Post.

The young man I had coffee with joined the girl and her supporters, taking a public stand on an issue dear to his heart.  As often happens in a small town, and across America, people criticized him, condemned him, telling him he’s a sinner because of what he is willing to say. His job was at risk for what he believed in, what he spoke about on his own Facebook page.

Yes, fear and bigotry and discrimination, right in his face.  Change his opinion or lose his job. The old beliefs, the old discriminatory, bigoted ways aren’t just something to talk about, not just some textbook First Amendment clash between freedom of religion and free speech. Now, it’s seeing the reality of imposing one’s own religious beliefs, and beliefs about who you can marry, to the point of crushing someone else’s right to their own opinion, to the point of getting fired.

Our coffee cools as we wrestle with his story, his pain and anguish, his moral dilemmas hitting his wallet and his conscience.  Being called out for what you believe in and threatened with losing his job, his challenges and choices aren’t just an academic debate. He’s on the battlefield, and the spears and the clash of swords on the front lines aren’t confined to a history book. The blood being shed is real.

Bigotry and fear run deep in our little town and across our country. He’s still in shock about how deep the cancer grows, how quickly the moral question got personal. The ugliness is something we both don’t like to see, don’t like to admit is thinking that is all too common. What is the price of his own conscience?

Yet, he knows his own mind, and he knows his standards of ethics and morality. Quietly, firmly he speaks his mind, knowing that he can sleep well tonight, knowing he made the right call, knowing that his beliefs are truly his own, that getting fired for what he believed in was really the best response to his boss, his own epiphany for what we are facing.

I shake his hand, seeing real courage across the table, feeling proud that he knows himself well enough to know his own mind, that he’s confident enough to follow his Truth, and live according to his own heart.

This flower garden is growing well.  The weeds have been called out and named. Weeds are being pulled and beautiful flowers have been planted. Strong plants send their roots deep into the soil of this young man’s heart, his morality strong and fertile.

Today, I plant some flowers of my own, going to a nearby prison and planting flowers inside the fence, behind the locked gate that slams shut every time I leave.

The young men I visit, several other volunteers, and I weed flower beds. We work on setting the supports for a new arbor in fresh cement, finish the week’s projects, and tidy up the garden. This weekend, the young men will host a Family Day, with food and games, and tours of their garden. Proudly, they will show off their hoop house, their raised beds and chickens, showing off all the growing that has been going on.

The youths clean up the garden and carry out their tasks, making the place shine, their flowers and vegetables thriving under their careful and meticulous gardening skills.  They are learning a great deal in their class, where they are studying a wide range of subjects.  I help correct their homework, and work with them, one on one, as they delve into the hands-on work of both the academic work and their hoop house and raised bed projects.  Their work is top notch, and their gardens reflect the pride they are taking in their agricultural work, and the rebuilding of their lives. It is garden work on many levels.

We work happily together, asking questions, sharing our knowledge, expanding our curiosity about how sunshine, dirt, seeds, and tender care can produce vigorous growth.  The young men ask great questions, get their hands dirty, and do the weeding, pruning and fertilizing they need to change themselves, and move on with their lives, becoming healthy, and vigorous young men. I’m given the task of adding several flats of marigolds to some bare spots in the flowerbeds. I create my own slice of Eden, being a role model for the young men, and adding some beauty to this world behind the fence and the barbed wire. A young man takes the time to admire my work, and ask me some questions about pruning. Our talk goes deep, until I answer what he is really asking.

Lives are changed here. I’m thankful I’m able to dig my trowel into the receptive soil of these young men, and plant some flowers.

This week, the gardens of our community have needed a great deal of work. Hard decisions have been made, and the spade work, hoeing and planting have made us sweat.  The gardeners have new blisters, some new aches and pains.  We’ve pulled the weeds and planted new flowers, and we are ready for a little more sunshine and truth in our lives.

—-Neal Lemery, May 29, 2015

Apples and Young Men


I was there to teach, to demonstrate how to care for apple trees, getting them ready for a season of growth, of new fruit. The young men gathered around me, curious about the sprayer I had brought, my long plastic gloves, my eye goggles.
Usually when I come to the youth prison, I bring coffee and food, and visit with one of two young men, listening to their stories, giving them a bit of direction and encouragement, trying to help them move on with their lives. Sometimes, I bring my guitar or a book. Sometimes, I bring my drum and listen to their worries and hope in a drumming circle, connecting with them in a deep, intimate way, the drum beats opening all of us up to our spiritual paths.

Today, though, I am the gardener, and so are they. They gather around a big work table in their greenhouse, all the shelves and plant tables filled to the brim with trays of their seedlings and cuttings. Eagerly, they show me what they’ve done, what they’ve planted, techniques they’ve learned to bring forth new life.

The chickens they’ve raised from eggs are now about to lay their own eggs. They tell me the stories of each of the hens, and how they’ve grown. The chickens are now a big part of their garden, eating scraps of lettuce, decimating slugs, and adding their nutrients back into the garden soil.

The circle of life is vibrant here, everyone involved in the daily routine of new life, hands on experiences with dirt, manure, sunlight, new plants, harvest, decay, renewal.

Their lives, too, nourished, weeded, fertilized, pruned and guided into healthy new growth, strengthened by the sunlight they are now letting into their lives, becoming strong, healthy men. I see smiles and bright eyes, as they tell me about their plants, their chickens, this place in the world they have made their own, a place of beauty and growth, of new life.

I talk about apples, how humans have tended them for thousands of years, continually improving them, new varieties, new techniques. There are stories of grafting, pruning, thinning, making living things thrive because of a person taking a little time to care.

I talk about disease and blight, of the need to prune out the parts of the plant that were harming the health of the rest of the tree, of adding lime to the soil, to help the tree thrive, to yield juicier fruit, growing stronger. Today, I’m attacking fungus and bugs, things that are hard to see, but still harm the tree. There were nods of understanding when I weave the care of apple trees into our lives and our dreams.

Eagerly, they watch me spray their trees, explaining each step, why I’m doing what I’m doing, helping to grow healthy trees, bring forth a bigger harvest, make this part of the world just a bit better.

Their questions are thoughtful, to the point, raising issues I hadn’t thought about. Together, we explore new questions, new solutions. We are all students here.

They’re orchardists of their own lives, and the concepts of opening something up to more sunshine and fresh air. Thinning out disease and refocusing energy are familiar ideas.

These men are gardeners of their own lives. Their questions and our discussions about apples teach me about the real agriculture that is going on here, behind the fence that surrounds their home.

“I learned to take care of a garden. Now I can take care of my life,” a young man said not long ago to one of the teachers there.

That wisdom helped him in the weeding and pruning of his life.

His story, told while we are snacking on some of the vegetables they had grown, brings nods of understanding from the young men there, gathered around the table. It is a lesson they know well, a way of thinking that is part of the routine, part of what they do every day when they water and tend their plants, feed their chickens, and make plans for how their garden would grow in the coming summer, and the summer of their own precious lives.

Perseverance


Perseverance

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
― Maya Angelou

I’ve been learning about perseverance lately. Springtime brings out the gardener in me. I watch tiny seeds sprout and then miraculously grow into healthy green plants. I transplanted and divided a rose bush, and a stalk with just a few leaves and a bit of root now is thriving, and sending out new growth.

Those tiny seeds, lost in my dirty fingers, turn into plants for my garden and the promise of a bountiful harvest in a few months.

People around me are like those seeds. Full of promise and determination, they “plant” themselves in the challenges and struggles of our world, and grow themselves into beautiful, productive, and love filled people.

A few days ago, I heard the poet Nikki Finney read some of her poems and talk about her life and her work. She is a naturally gifted writer and teacher, using words to create rich, abundant images, and beautiful poems. She is inspiration and talent, and her passion for caring about life and our world electrified me and the other 2,000 people who listened to her every word.

When she was eighteen, she read a poem at a workshop. A wise woman commented that her words were pretty, but wondered what she was going to do with those pretty words, and how she was going to use those pretty words to make a difference in the world.

“What is your plan?” the woman asked.

Indeed, what is anyone’s plan for their life? What am I going to do with what I have?

Several of the young men I mentor at the local youth prison are now gardeners. The master gardeners from the local farm extension service visit now, and have shared their passion for gardening. These young men, perceived by some as criminals who need to be locked up and forgotten about, are becoming skilled gardeners and farmers. They understand the importance of weeding, pruning, and watering in order to grow for the coming summers in their lives, nurturing their souls and living the metaphor of sowing crops in fertile soil.

They persevere. They overcome the obstacles of their lives. They take risks, putting their souls into inhospitable conditions, knowing that there will be sunshine to grow their tender new leaves and nutrients to feed their roots growing deep into rich soil. There will be frosts and cold rains, and bugs and weeds. But, they keep working at the task at hand, at life, and in growing strong.

They learn new skills, and they heal from the wounds and struggles of the past, becoming part of a community, moving into their manhood.

It is hard work, as any seedling knows, settling in and putting down roots in the garden we call the adult world. Yet, they keep at it, and they move on.

Almost all of them wouldn’t finish high school, outside of prison. Yet, this spring, a record number of them will become high school graduates. They don’t opt for a GED, and instead, they choose to go to school, learn with others, and do the work they need to go in order to pass a challenging high school curriculum.

Many of them move on to college, taking college classes. One of my young friends there became the first inmate to achieve his associates degree, becoming the first college graduate in his family. Others saw how he worked, and how he dreamed, and they, too, are working on their degrees.

They are going beyond what they thought they could ever accomplish in their lives, and they are moving ahead. They can dream, now, and know that if they work hard, if they are like the tough little seed thrown into the garden soil, they will sprout and grow, they will move ahead in life.

They persevere.

—Neal Lemery, April 25, 2013

Discovering My Inner Farmer


 

I’m turning into a farmer.

Lately, at the store, I find myself in the garden section of the only variety store in town, or looking for obscure items, like a brush to scrub out the dirt under my fingernails, or peat pots, or labels for seedlings. I spent a number of cold wet February days engrossed in seed catalogs.

I even bought myself a straw gardener’s hat, and am looking for some lightweight overalls to wear out in the garden this summer. I already have the pitchfork and the banjo, and the rocker on the porch, er, deck, ready for my American Gothic moment or my Deliverance cameo.

My new favorite store in my small town is the farmers’ co-op store. I’ve been going there for years, as it’s the cheapest place for gas in town, and my favorite drive-through latte place is next door. But, now, I’ve discovered they have great prices on tools, and odd bits of garden and farming stuff I’ve been needing. They have all the cool farmer stuff, including eight kinds of fence posts and woven fence wire, and baby chicks for sale.

The toy John Deere tractors look like fun, but I haven’t had the courage to play with them yet. But, I think my time is coming. I’ll just tell the clerk it’s for the grandchildren.

Today, one clerk helped me find the weird little clamps to attach wire to metal fence posts, for my brand new baby vineyard. They have five kinds to sell, and the clerk directed me to the cheap ones, for fences not challenged by cows or horses. Baby grape vines should be a bit more docile.

The co-op is one of two places in town you can get metal fence posts. I’ve been finding them handy for staking up trees and shrubs (so they can withstand the typhoons we occasionally have around here) and also now for the garden, now that I am chief gardener. (That reminds me, I need to update my resume and my Link-In status.)

And, they give me a ten percent senior discount. So, who can resist.

Today, as I was waiting to check out with my exciting purchases of screwdrivers and fence wire holders, I had a bit of time to kill as the guy ahead of me was ordering baby chicks. The store had some baby chicks in a cage along the back wall, and he was wondering what kind of chickens he needed for his chicken yard. Apparently what he needed must be special ordered from Baby Chick Warehouse.

I’d been wanting a decent pocket knife for a couple of years, one that was simply handy for mundane tasks, such as cutting the twine I use to stake up my trees and plants, and to open bags of fertilizer and seeds. The supermarket store had the spendy $50 kind, but I just wanted something handy to rip open a bag of fertilizer or whack off a hunk of twine.

As I’m standing in line waiting for the chicken farmer to make his decision, I spy a nice display of very handy, single bladed pocket knives, for $4. When it became my turn to make my exciting purchases, I quickly added a knife to the loot. The clerk asked me if I just wanted to throw out the box and put the knife in my pocket. She knows farmers well and knows we don’t need any packaging materials. In a minute, I was out the door with my trusty new pocket knife in my pocket.

I think it will work. It is a Navy Seal brand. But, somehow, I don’t think the commando teams use the $4 version. It will work just fine with my garden twine and that sack of lime I need to get out to the vegetable garden next week.

My last stop was the local plant nursery that is a loosely guarded secret around here. They don’t advertise, except for a little sandwich board sign by their mailbox, six miles out of town on a country road leading nowhere. It’s a couple of miles from me, who lives near Nowhere, so they are like neighbors to me. But, everyone around here knows that is where you get the good starts of veggies, and flowers, and herbs. The place sells to the bigger nurseries, but, the best prices and the best quality is found at the other end of their driveway.

So, on my way home, I stop at the place. I’m the only customer, but then, it’s Friday afternoon, and I guess people are doing other stuff today. Stuff like work, or mowing their lawn just a few hours before the next series of spring rains move through the area for the weekend.

Me, I’m retired now, and I really do have a hard time remembering what day of the week it is. When every day seems like Saturday, the forty hour work week loses its importance. Maybe that’s one reason I read the morning paper.

We just had an entire week of rain and the calendar says it is spring, so the grass production is in high gear. And, today, some of the dairy farmers are spreading their “liquid gold”, which they always do just before it rains. We use our noses around here a lot to predict the weather.

The owner greets me by name, and asks if I have anything in particular I need.

“No, just browsing,” I say, not very convincingly.

No one leaves this place empty handed. It’s one of the reasons I have a good sized sheet of plastic in the back of the car, for the box or two or three of plants I’ll find at a nursery I just might stop by and “browse”.

Four tomato plants call my name and demand to be taken home. Now, mind you, we had a good frost this morning, and the next few days is supposed to be rainy, windy and cold. And, maybe some more frosts next week. Definitely not tomato planting weather.

Still, plant lust is part of my psychology, and we do have a greenhouse. The owner asks me that, as he rings up the sale. We exchange nods of understanding, of our addiction, and the basic primal need to buy tomato plants in April an hour before a cold front moves on shore.

Back home, I find myself in the greenhouse, gathering big pots for my tomatoes. I shovel rich soil into the pots and am soon tying up the new guys next to the bamboo stakes I’ve found in the garden shed. I get to test out my new pocket knife, cutting off a hunk of twine, and helping the tender tomato stalks stand up in their new home. The Navy Seals and Rambo would be impressed with how I skillfully whacked off the lengths of twine and brought order to the tomatoes with my maybe official Navy Seal $4 knife.

We used to buy garden soil by the plastic bag. But, a couple of years ago, my wife got smart and simply ordered a truckload of the stuff from the local garden soil and barkdust wholesaler. (Yeah, we have a big pile of barkdust, too. My back muscles wanted me to mention that.) That’s where I get my dirt now, and, amazingly, that big pile is doing down a bit, a bucket here and there for the roses I transplanted, my grapes, and my new seed plantings I’ve made. The greenhouse is now half full of my fledgling, soon to be, vegetable garden and I have a basket of other seeds sitting on the dining room table, waiting for that warm week of May that is seed planting right in the garden week. It is coming in May this year, right?

I’ve even gone so far over the edge of garden madness to fashion a little nylon holster on my belt, so I can tote around my trowel and my hand pruners. I’m ready for the noontime showdown at the OK Corral, if the Earp brothers need some landscaping done. I’m thinking of adding a little hook for the container of slug bait, but that might have to wait until slug season moves into high gear.

This morning, I could be found in the back of the garden, happily putting together the planks of my newest raised bed, using serious metal screws in the planks, thinking the new raised bed would be a good place for all the squash and zucchini seedlings emerging in the greenhouse. And, maybe, that heirloom Ukrainian melon seed and purple tomato seed from the heirloom seed company in Missouri I’m trying out this year. “Thrives in cool climates”, the catalog boasted for a lot of what I bought. I’ll put them to the test.

Yesterday, I was pounding in metal fence posts, and digging holes. Soon, my new grape vines were sticking their toes into the ground, all staked and tied, and labeled with special copper labels I’d found on Amazon. The little vineyard of six vines had been on my project list for years, and the spot was the most sheltered and warmest, most grape friendly spot on our place.

My mind’s eye could see the grape-laden vines handing heavily down along the trellises on a warm summer evening, with me out there clipping off clusters of sweet table grapes. Oh, probably not this year, but the project now is well under way.

I’m still looking for that pair of comfortable, denim coveralls. I’ve got the straw hat, the pitch fork, and the banjo. But, maybe I need a jug of moonshine. That might be the next project around here.

4/10/2013 Neal Lemery

Come September


Come September, and it is the start of a new year. School is starting, vacations are ending, the garden is in full harvest mode.

The long season of lawn mowing has slowed, nearly stopped, and one has time to wander around the yard, taking in the flowers, and the now unmistakeable presence of the start of Fall. Summer is still here in the heat of the afternoon, but the early morning crispness and heavy dew is a sign of transition in the calendar, in the cycle of the seasons.

The last few months have been their usual blur of activities: chores and projects, sandwiched between work, and the summertime events.

We still haven’t made it to the local farmers’ market this year, and have only had a few walks on the beach. I took a long anticipated hike a few weeks ago, realizing it had been a while since I hit the trail, what with trying to find where I’d last laid down my hiking boots and my binoculars.

A family reunion was fun, with great food, singing, and visiting folks I hadn’t seen for a year. And, we had an unplanned one later one, gathering for a funeral, and remembering the wonderful stories and laughter of a favorite uncle. Another reminder of how important it is to find the time for the fun and adventure of happy times, and good memories, and the strength of families.

One evening, we had the joy of listening to a favorite due sing and work their magic with their guitars and mandolin. They played a concert at the youth prison we go to every week, visiting and mentoring young men. There was a special joy in our hearts, watching young men enjoy themselves, becoming one with the music, and pondering their own talents and dreams. Again, I was reminded of the power and gift of music in our lives.

Every week, I take my guitar there, through the prison gate, and play and sing with one of my buddies. His musical talents are amazing, and an occasional tear runs down my face, as I share his joy and gifts, and watch him grow and find himself. My guitar teacher is now part of his life, and his skills seem to grow exponentially.

Their Pow Wow last week was a celebration of Spirit, of their many rich heritages, their creativity, and, above all, of their rich and fruitful community. I was humbled and honored to be asked to come, and sit with them, and dance with them, in all their splendid and welcoming community.

I go there as a mentor, but I really am the receiver, the mentee, the beneficiary of so many gifts from those amazing young men.

As with every summer, there never seems to be enough evenings sitting outside, just enjoying the end of the day and the solitude of the yard. Yet, we have had those wonderful evenings, and an hour here or there just enjoying the place and the day.

Last week, my chore list got sidelined, and I rediscovered my canvasses and paints, and brushes, and spent a few hours lost in art. My soul was happy, and the frustration inside of me that I’d hadn’t really had all the fun I’ve wanted this summer floated away. Later on, I played my guitar and sang a few songs outside, building up good memories of time well spent.

I held myself to one weekend wedding this summer, and savored the experience of love energy, a beautiful woman walking down the aisle, and the smile on her husband’s face. There was much laughter and happiness, on a sunny evening, where barbecue smoke and good music lingered into twilight.

I’ve also found some riches in getting rid of things, and cleaning up a bit. My golf clubs, which had accumulated dust, are now in the hands of a high school student who is passionate about his golf team. My childhood .22 rifle is now in the hands of a firearms instructor, and my mother’s deer rifle will soon be in the hands of a young man passionate about the sport and time out in the woods with his family.

My baby picture is now hung on a wall, rather than sitting in a box gathering dust, and there is a large pile of old papers waiting for the end of fire season and a new burn barrel. Other treasures await my rediscovery of them, and the crossroad questions of “toss or save”. At 59 years old, the “toss” answer is becoming more popular.

The real treasures now are time with family and friends, and in simply being present amidst the natural beauty that surrounds us. And, I keep learning to pay attention to that, and to be present in all of that.

Come September, I hope to simply be grateful for all that is, in my life.

Neal Lemery 9/1/12