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    Learning how to Grow

    June 30, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    A beautiful post…from Mystie. ♥

    Mystie Winckler is a wife of one, mother of five, homemaker, home-educator, and compulsive list-maker. She blogs about simple cooking and menu planning at Simple Pantry Cooking, about creating and maintaining a cheerful home at Simply Convivial, and about organizing stuff at Simplified Organization. You can also follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

    I‘ve always been an indoor sort of person. In my free time as a child, you’d most likely find me curled up on the couch with a book, in the kitchen cooking, or pretending to be a secretary filling out paperwork {sad, but true}. My mom would make me go outside, and I would mostly just mope around the yard or ride my bike aimlessly, putting in my time to satisfy my mom.

    So, I find it rather amusing now that gardening is one of my hobbies. Perhaps it’s in my blood. My grandparents kept a huge vegetable garden and would save the strawberry picking for my visits. My mom wished for flowers growing up with that large vegetable garden, so now tends over 70 heirloom roses. And I return to vegetable gardening. In my husband’s family, orchardists and ranchers on both sides, planting a vegetable garden is as normal and expected as having two extra freezers in the basement.

    I started my first vegetable garden when we moved into our second house with a bit of the backyard left in dirt. “Might as well plant some tomatoes,” I thought. My frugality led me on, because of course it would save so much money in our grocery budget; it’s free food! My first lesson was that it was a very good thing my family did not have to depend upon my not-so-green thumb to eat. But my two small boys had to play outside, and the yard was not fenced, so I might as well do something while I was out with them.

    I had very little success that first year, but I will never forget the startled surprise I felt when I saw my first seedlings emerge. “This is real!” Honestly, I was shocked and amazed. It’s sort of embarrassing, but I truly felt like I was watching magic. When I read Poetic Knowledge a few years later, this pitiful garden epiphany was my gateway to understanding what James Taylor was talking about: seeing something happen is orders of magnitude different from reading about something.

    So each year I have returned to the dirt in the spring. As is my wont in all things I undertake, I start off way too overzealous and overconfident, taking on much more than I am capable of. But since my family is not relying on my efforts to survive, I have no problem tearing out a zucchini plant when it gets overlarge or full of beetles, and I have been known to simply stop in August and stubbornly ignore my garden’s existence when the weeds overtake even the tallest tomato. I’m done now. Mow it down. Come April, I’ll forget all that and start again with fresh high hopes. And so in my own way, each year I still make steady progress. I’ve learned what we don’t eat even if it does grow. I’ve learned what I can’t grow well. I’ve learned which plants give the most produce for the space. And I’ve even learned how to go out at least every other day and actually weed my beds.

    In the process, I’ve learned a lot about myself that I can apply to other projects {like homeschooling my children} where I can’t – much as I’d often like to – just say, “Mow it down. I’ll start over in 6 months.” I’ve learned that steady maintenance really does work better than booming and busting. I’ve learned to enjoy putting my fingers in the earth. I’ve learned what the weeds that grow in our area look like when they sprout and how to tell them apart from the seeds I planted. I’ve learned to enjoy doing something outside, something real instead of theoretical, something so real it can be eaten.

    Gardening is my poetic knowledge education, where my thoughts and the real world collide. When I go out there and pull weeds, I am becoming a more whole person. My indoor, inner-thought self acknowledges that there is value in nature and in the tangible, so I push myself out of my hole and allow practices to order my loves and rearrange my heart. Of course, pulling weeds is also a way to mix my philosophical self with nature. As I actually see things like weeds growing up among crops, like vines clinging to their branches, like leaves unfurling to soak up the sun, I understand why Jesus used so many plant-based metaphors. More than that, I realize how much more a metaphor means when you see it, experience it, taste it, even if you thought you understood it well enough before.

    When April and May come, the garden is just beginning to sprout. It holds out so much hope and promise as peas begin climbing their strings, as lettuce sprouts fill the beds, and as the raspberries and strawberries wake up. Inside, April and May usually hold unrest as we are all ready to be done with the homeschool year, as the house is in need of a spring cleaning for which there is no time. Inside, it can get tense. The tension used to build and build and I’d try to find ways to deny it or bottle it up or let it out. Now, I have a place. Green growth. Moist dirt made of manure and garbage and full of creepy crawly things. It is a place of peaceful, vibrant life springing up out of muck. We’ll be OK. We have to pull the weeds, and the weeds will compost into the basis of our fruitfulness. Breathe in the fresh air. Reenter the fray, knowing that we are God’s crop, and He is tending us; the rain, the weeds, the training and pruning, it is all working toward the harvest He is bringing forth.

    Around the same time I was starting my first couple gardens, about four or five years ago now, I remember arguing with Brandy over this concept of ordering our affections and learning to love what we ought to love. Yet her gentle persistence and her wise questions planted a seed, a seed which was watered by further conversations and good books and providential experience, a seed which sprouted in due time, a seed which has felt like magic to behold.

    Slowly over these years I have learned to live. I have learned that I can embrace the world in ways that at first do not come naturally to me. I have learned to admit that if I don’t enjoy something that is objectively Good or True or Beautiful, I must admit also that the problem is with me. That doesn’t mean immediately doing a 180 and loving a thing as it should be loved starting now, but it does mean opening myself up to curiosity, to wonder, to the possibility that even I might grow, eventually, to see the True, Good, and Beautiful better and better all my life, wherever I encounter it, be it in my home, in my backyard, in my neighborhood, or wherever I might be. The beginning of wisdom is wonder, said Socrates, and perhaps the beginning of wonder is admitting that I am not as fully human as I should be. That is, perhaps education truly is repentance. When we admit our shortcomings, even those residing in our natural proclivities and even in our natural talents, then we open ourselves to wonder, which in turn may guide us to wisdom.

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