Saturday, August 11, 2018

Method and Madness

Everybody who comes here means business. We come with what we have - trucks, cars and trailers, armed with shovels, gloves, containers and the determination to get the job done quickly, efficiently and leave.

Except for the scraping of our shovels it’s usually quiet. The sound of silence a therapeutic backdrop for the rhythmic scrape-thump-scrape of the tools.  When I pause to catch my breath and look around, I realize my neighbors are a miniature cross-section of the United Nations. Maybe that’s why we don’t talk – we may not speak the same language! And yet, there is a sense of comradery here, you can almost scoop it in the palms of your hands and feel its weight and texture.  

I wonder what it is about this uncomely spot that melts the barriers and unites us.

Part of me thinks we all are a little (or perhaps a LOT) crazy. Who in their right mind leaves the comfort of their air conditioned home and braves Florida summer heat and humidity to get… dirt???

Of course, as Shakespeare warned us, where there is madness, there could be very well be a method hiding behind. 

I look at my sweaty, filthy dirt-mates with fresh eyes and I see not the raggedy crazies but visionaries of the worlds that for right now exist only inside their heads. But give it a month or two, those visions will sprout and grow, change and transform, from dirt and seed, into a stalk of tomato, a cucumber vine, a daisy and a marigold.

It was on one such day that I met first Cris and soon after Joe and his friend Sam.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Other Black Gold

I often wondered what it was about the compost pile that marked the turning point?

If you went, there wouldn’t be much to see in that place. Some may say ‘nothing to see at all’.

No blinding glory and no beauty for sure.  Almost an exact opposite of the Home Depot garden center.

The best way to describe it would be a large pile of dirt under the giant canopy of blue sky. That’s it.

Just dirt. Pure, unadulterated dirt.

The Pile lives on the outer edge of the city, just beyond the city limits on the county landfill property. It is located a stone’s throw away from the gated entrance, not too far from the recycling facility, but some ways from the actual landfill where our community stinky garbage is carefully, professionally buried and beautified into rolling hills of Florida.  

Everything that is discarded from the residents’ lawns and gardens – trimmed overgrowth, storm tossed broken limbs, weeds, lawn clippings, fallen leaves, dried out potted plants once given as gifts to incompetent brown thumbs like me – all our ugly, useless and burdensome is collected weekly and combined together into gardening wreckage heaps.  These giant monstrosities are then marinated and slow-baked in the heat and humidity until the magic of time and some fantastic science turn them into the other black gold.  

Once ready, the gold is graciously moved closer to the entrance where it is freely given to any resident willing to come, grab a shovel and get his or her own.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Where Gardeners are Made... or Not

My rich history of failure has taught me that regular visits to the neighborhood Home Depot garden center will NOT automatically turn me into a gardener.  

It always seemed like such a logical place to start... All that glory and beauty, inspiration and elevation - it's bound to have some effect.  But, the effect was short-lived at best. The oversized marigolds which were calling my name there, once home suddenly lost their luster and somehow shrunk to an unimpressive size. They quickly wilted in the heat of the day and, eventually dried out and dead, would get flung onto the compost pile on the side of the house with the rest.

Still I found myself like a crack addict coming back for more, mindlessly roaming the aisles of green, watching busy shoppers pushing their stuffed up carts with pots of marigolds and bags of manure, mulch and Miracle Gro.

I guess gardening and logic do not always go hand in hand.

I couldn't get the thought out of my mind: 

If Home Depot garden center is not the place to learn how to become a gardener, then what is????

I don't know if it was around that time that I first heard about the landfill or something caused that previously acquired information to finally 'click'. It’s not the type of common knowledge you share with other customers while waiting in the Walmart checkout line. 

Have you been to the landfill lately?  Have you seen the latest pile of junk they've got?

Right now I can’t even remember who told me about it first. 

All I know, my initial trip there marked the beginning of an utterly new chapter in my gardening life, a genuine paradigm shift of sort. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Be Careful What You Pray For

In retrospect, I realize I didn’t really mean what I said in that desperate prayer. 

What I was really hoping to see was a swooping deity coming to my rescue, fixing my stubborn lawn problem with a flick of his almighty green thumb completely apart from me, apart from anything that I would or could be doing. With the HOA and our relentless next door neighbor thus finally off my back, I would be able to return to living my life the way I always have. Everybody happy, everybody getting what they wanted. End of story.

Some of us are raised to believe that such is the nature of real miracles which happen to accompany real faith.  Anything short of that simply doesn’t count.

I can't pretend to be an expert on either prayer or miracles. You may say that God got me on the technicality – I indeed have said, Make me a gardener, even though what that meant to me apparently was significantly different from what it meant to God.

I guess He took me for my word and ran with it. In fact, He is still running with it. 

As they say, Be careful what you pray for. You may just get it.

Of course, hind sight being 20/20, with this twenty-ish year perspective I see how this has worked for my greater advantage.  I was asking for one thing,  but He chose to give me something far better than a quick fix, a 'Raman noodle' miracle.

Still, I realize that like Limburger cheese, some may find 'aged', 'slow cooker' miracles an acquired taste. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

It Takes a Rocket Scientist, a God and a Fool

I wasn’t aware of this until we bought our first house, but I was born with not just a brown thumb, but with all my fingers brown, both on my hands and on my feet (technically called ‘toes’).

Within the first year of the purchase we killed just about every plant on our property.  Mostly through dumb ignorance resulting in abject neglect, but during that time I also discovered that it is possible to kill by caring too much. Too much weeding, too much water, fertilizer, pesticide… you name it, we did it. We’d sunken a fortune into our front yard, only to watch it go down the drain – literally. We became known as neighborhood serial plant killers. My experience taught me that gardening is rocket science par excellence and I am not a rocket scientist.  

Still, if there was any hope for our yard, any hope at all, we needed a rocket scientist or gardener, or both.

Not a lawn mowing service that rolls around once a week, makes a lot of noise and leaves after 30 or so minutes.

And not purveyors of unsolicited gardening advice – God knows we had plenty of those but the only good they taught us was never to trust gardeners with manicured hands.

I looked closely to the right and to the left, but there was no one in sight. Finally it dawned on me that there was one thing that remained.  A long shot and rather foolish one, but at this point I had nothing to lose. So I took a deep breath and exhaled a foolish, impossible prayer.

God, you who created this world out of NOTHING, make me a gardener.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Recipe for Revival

Recently I was asked to write a piece on the topic of revival.

Revival?!!!? I can’t write about revival!, was my visceral reaction. Even I with my rich track record of foolhardy choices would think twice before blindly bumbling in where angels fear to tread.  

How do you write about the subject which is‘caught’ rather than taught? 

How do you transcribe the realm of existence where writers are like garbage pickers feeding on the scraps that fall off the ‘livers’ of life table? 

I tried to squirm my way out of it. Clearly not very successfully.

So, here I am, sitting at my desk on a rainy day writing about revival. As I look out of my window, I realize, it’s not a bad place to start.  My lawn, thoroughly saturated by torrential rains over the past several days, looks better, greener and lusher than it ever has.  I guess, one can say that it has been ‘revived’.  

If you knew the whole story, you would agree with me it truly is a miracle that it looks like this - not perfect, but pretty darn good, by my modest standards. Human, real-life good-enough good, not photo-shop, Better Homes and Gardens, Facebook good.  

This miracle, however, was long in the making. It's the kind of miracle that most people don't really care for - it's neither flashy nor instantaneous. The only miracles they believe in are the crowd-pleasing spectaculars which happen quick - like a magic trick or a drive-through burger on a squishy bun, except that you tag 'in Jesus' name' at the end of your celestial order. 

But this miracle didn't happen like that. It took many drawn out years for its wonder to unfold before our eyes.

I still remember clearly the time when our yard used to look just like our next-door neighbor’s now. 

Namely, dead. 

In sore need of revival. 

Their dried out wasteland brings fond memories of what was once our own.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Who is Taking Your Test?

Mrs. S, today I can use your help with this new computer assessment we are trying out. It's my day to help out at our kids' school, doing whatever the teacher deems most productive use of our time. There is a variety of jobs available, and this one seems easy enough. Still, she warns me,

 It’s been a bit of adjustment for all of us but we are slowly getting used to it. If you don’t mind, just monitor the process and assist the students if they get stuck.

I pull an extra chair next to the computer station and call the first name from the list. One by one, students came, type their login name and password, take the test with varying degrees of success, and are sent back to their desks with customized messages matching their final score:


Try again!

Better luck next time!

I begin to wonder what the fuss is all about when I call Jaeda’s name. She sits in front of the monitor, types her name but instead of the screen of the first page of the test, a different message is displayed.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have passed this test!
And in smaller font, a little note below,

There is no more testing available for this student at this time.

I try several times, making sure that the name and the password are typed correctly, but each time the computer comes back with the same message.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have passed this test!

Jaeda looks at me confused. She shakes her head, No, when I ask her if she has already taken the test. I call upon Mrs. D., and at first she seems as confused as we are. Then her eyes light up with sudden recognition,

I know exactly why it is doing that! In preparation for your coming I wanted to make sure that the program worked properly so I took the test, and it was in her name! I guess I already passed the test for her! There is no need for her to take it again.

We look at each other and burst into laughter. Jaeda, somewhat dazed, walks back to her desk, having a bit of trouble fully taking in her good fortune.

Nothing like having your teacher taking the test in your name – I wish they did that when I was a student…

In the echo of the laughter about the improbable exchange, I see with surprising clarity another improbable exchange that took place long ago. Today, I soak in afresh its wonder and thank the Teacher again for taking my place, and not just once, but once for all, passing the test for me.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21