Life’s a garden… Dig it.


Matt White

This year had been filled with firsts for me. A new home in a new in a new town in a fresh year capable of being filled with positive moves in right direction is shaping up to be nothing less than just that. I’m feeling productive at both home and work, and overall satisfied with where I’m at in life, and I’ve found yet another love… the backyard garden.
My childhood memories are punctuated with working summers along side my father in the backyard garden. For years I thought my dad plowed and tilled our plot primarily out of necessity, and I suppose for the most part that essentially was the case. We didn’t have a lot of money, for all his hard work and dedication – we were never “rich” with possessions or money; I inherited much more than that.
At the time I had mixed feelings about the garden; and the work the it – and my dad – demanded.
And it was just that. Hard work, period. There isn’t a pair of Elton John style rose-colored glasses on earth that can make me look back longingly at the blisters, sweat and thirst that came endlessly from the garden emblazoned with a day’s noon sun.
We composted our kitchen waste and grass clippings every year. I never questioned it, as it just what I was expected to do as one of my many chores. We never had a fancy riding mower, just an old Briggs and Stratton push-job with a bagger that had to emptied every three swipes of the lawn’s length. Of course, the compost heap was atop the hill behind the garden, so I would fill the wheelbarrow with clippings and cart it when it was super-full.
Every other day – or everyday when the temperature was relatively high – it was my job to take the kitchen waste out to the heap. On the weekend, it would then be my chore to “turn” the pile with a pitch fork to aid in the decomposition and keep it from catching fire. Anyone who knows how hot a compost pile can get in the summer heat understands the danger.
Picking rock while we prepared the soil for the plants and seeds was especially monotonous work. My hands cracked from the desiccative nature of dirt; my dads hands felt like rough tree bark, so it didn’t bother him… at least, I never heard him complain about it.
Now, as an adult who’s been through his fair share of life, I’m tending to my own garden for the first time on my own since the days in the backyard of my childhood along side my sister, step mom and father.
I find it astounding how much information the human brain is willing to store without coercion. There was never any studying or tests – no quizzing or memorization of the things my father taught me as the fourth grader who needed guidance on the do’s and don’ts of gardening; amongst other things.
I suppose that I did what I was told regardless of how I felt about it because I knew there would be repercussions if I chose not to. More than that – I did it because I wanted to work alongside my dad, and I respected him. The magic of a garden harvest is something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience, and now I’m convinced that was something that he knew all along. I worked shoulder to shoulder with my old man, who was raised on our family farm and was taught those very skills by his father, whose father had taught him and so on.
This past weekend I spend the majority of my time in the garden with my own boys. While at times the frustration of them trampling about the sowed seeds was overwhelming, I kept it together and at least pg-13 –  because I saw something that reminded me of a younger, pure and inquisitive version of myself in them. They wanted to be in the garden, shoulder to shoulder helping their dad… getting dirty and feeling productive.
A look back on the hours I spent explaining what they could and could not do, and what had to be accomplished versus what they wanted to do – that it’s “called work because it’s not play, not because it can’t be fun” (a concept that will most likely take them a child or two of their own to fully grasp) – and I feel good.
They picked rocks, learned the in’s and out’s of the pick axe and how to hoe a row  and plant seeds into the rich earth with their old man, just as I had.
My Dad – my best friend – died when I was all of 19 years of age and so sure of everything some 14 years ago. I feel blessed to have been afforded those 19 short years with him, learning the skills he had to offer from my grandfather, great-grandfather – ancestors.
No doubt, my boys will carry on those same practices with the name and hopefully one day reflect on summer days digging in the garden.