This I Believe

Paul - 12159, New York
Entered on May 22, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: community, nature

I believe everyone should have a garden. Better than that, I believe that everyone should participate in a community garden. But that’s another essay. When I was a very young speechwriter working, by great luck, in the Carter Administration I found myself sitting in the basement of the Department of Interior with my first major writing assignment – a major speech about trails and hiking to be given in a few days by my boss. Writer’s block struck. What the heck could a suburban Boston Jewish kid whose major outdoor nature experience was confined to summer camp say to bunch of hard-core nature freaks? Somehow I got through the project but soon thereafter, maybe it was a post Earth Day inspiration, I decided that the best way for me to learn about nature was to garden. So I found a community garden in Rock Creek Park and rode my bike up there at dawn, almost every single morning. I was hooked – tending plants, growing my own food, meeting all sorts of strangers and strange garden neighbors, the sights, the smells, the little changes every single day, some within the hour or so while I was at the garden. I became a True Believer and what happened after that was that in every single job from that first one on I somehow managed to integrate a garden, actually a community garden, component. When I changed jobs during my Carter years I managed to convince my boss, a member of the President’s cabinet, to turn me loose to start community gardens on lands around federal buildings around the country. I actually turned my avocation in to a job – that is still another This I Believe Essay! – when I moved to upstate New York in 1980 and found myself running a well established urban community gardens program. I left that job eventually but never left the garden and now, in semi-retirement, I am once again hooked – in some manner the organizing dynamic of my life is at least partially driven by the state of the garden. On vacation I have to figure out how to water the two fig trees that I roll in and out of the garage during the changing seasons. In winter I look outside the window and wonder what tree or shrub silhouette I should be growing for better visual winter interest. The Gallup Poll tells us that gardening is America’s number one leisure time activity. Whatever forms it takes – pushing a lawnmower, planting a few bean seeds with your kid, tending a street tree outside your urban or suburban window, making plans to quit your busy life to become an organic farmer – the act of working with plants is calming, quieting, provides instant gratification and, best of all, in a multi-tasking always on global information marketplace, gardening, no matter what form it takes, provides another kind of connection – or to look at it another way, a fundamental disconnection, getting one to a much quieter, much grander place.