What I’m Learning

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*The premise for this post was shamelessly borrowed from a dear friend and fabulous writer, Dianna (Calareso) Sawyer, who generously believes in collaboration among writers.

It is only early September, but as I sit outside, writing, and all too aware that summer will very soon turn to fall (which, as a teacher, is a lot more concrete than when my garden’s production will slow down and I will be forced to wear layers out of doors), I can’t help but make my mental list of all that I have learned – am learning – over the course of the season.

My backyard tomato plants, in a collection of orange pots in various sizes, are lined up along the rear exterior wall of my house, in full view of where I am sitting. For the past few years I have been adding compost to the bottom of each before filling the rest with leftovers from previous year’s efforts. Every year the tomato seedling in the largest pot out-performs its neighbors, its roots having more room to stretch and expand, to soak up the nutrients from the winter’s root vegetable ends and onion skins and egg shells. Every year I tell myself to give the other seedlings more room to grow; that the cost of a few new pots will more than pay for itself in future caprese salads and general satisfaction at my own gardening prowess. Every year, out of laziness or stubbornness or misplaced frugality, I use the same mid-sized pots and have the same stunted growth of confined tomato roots next to one towering, prolific behemoth.

I am learning to give living things the room they need to reach their full potential.

On my back steps I have planted a few seeds in smaller pots – seeds that I knew would flourish in the fall, once the harshest heat had passed for the season. This is my small reward for the change of seasons: the promise of new growth that is only possible when my beloved summer wanes. The plan is to plant these in the community plot when they are large enough, in the empty spots where I have already pulled my bush beans and plucked the garlic. But, as I often do, I have forgotten what hearty seeds I planted, and thus grow healthy plants that I can’t help but fear are weeds. Every year I tell myself to label my seedlings – at home and in my garden. I have spent more time than I care to admit tending to weeds that would produce no fruit.

I am learning that it is worth a few extra moments of planning and organizing now, to ensure my efforts later are working towards the outcomes I actually want, and are not for naught.

Behind me are my raspberry canes, replanted last fall from my grandmother’s thick patch 500 miles away after an initial few that I planted had died. I watched them grow and thrive over the past year, waiting for berries that did not come. What had I done wrong, I asked my father, who had also transplanted rows of canes to his backyard. “Nothing,” he answered. “Just cut them back this fall. They need time to establish and plant ‘children’ canes before you’ll see fruit.”

I am learning that even in nature, parents sacrifice visible outcomes for their children – and that sometimes the work that is happening (beneath the dirt, or above it) can’t be quantified in sweet mouthfuls.

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