Spring, 2011

Happy Easter! (And Remember the Future*)

The great thing about the garden is that it remembers the future.  Like Easter, it says death flows into life because it has no where else to go. 

Yesterday we carried two weeks of frozen compost to the local community garden and placed it in the offering plate.  The offering plate was a white drum with a handle you can turn.  Our egg shells, onion skins, coffee grounds, apple cores, grapefruit peels, squished limes and garlic casings were on their way to resurrection as next year’s Swiss chard.  Or red leafed lettuce.  Perhaps even a sweet pea will rise from these offerings. 

Remembering the future is the only way to have a future. You have to build now for later.  As the very successful head of Amazon says, over and over, we need to be three steps ahead of our last three steps which steps will shift each time we take them.  Ok, ok, ok.   I know we’re supposed to “carpe diem,” seize the day, live the moment and all that.  Still the truth of every moment is the way it treated yesterday.  It has a past as last year’s compost, a present as this year’s onion, and a future as next year’s chard.  Don’t let the momentous momentists’ fool you.  Now is later, later is now and soil needs eternal, not temporal, attention.  Living is also, always, dying, only to rise to living again.

As a writer in 2011, I often remember that I have to have 2014’s new idea now.  As a mentor, I often tell people to build the resume now that will realize their future.  My friend Lennard Davis tells his graduate students to publish everything, twice.  That way they won’t face their tenure committees with onionskins.  They will appear with Swiss chard.  Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the magnificent author of one of the first and best green books, RIVERS OF GRASS, confessed late in life that she always “told people more than they wanted to hear.”  Adding value and prophecy to the moments we live as we live them is what gardens – and success – need.

In a world where millions of children are left behind, where the Transit Insecurity Authority can strip you of dignity and belts, where for many people it is uphill both ways, where even airplane metal is fatigued, gardening is a great strategy.  You don’t just plant and you don’t just pick.  You build the context, love the matrix, offer the garbage.  You live now three steps a head.  You remember the future.

The consequences of not remembering the future, today, in the now, are serious.  A budget could pass that would punish old sick people, as though that punishment did not create a moral deficit as serious as the money deficit could ever be.  An airplane could fall from the sky because people were too busy making money in the moment rather than paying attention to metal’s fatigue.  Nuclear power could solve an energy crisis today only to create one tomorrow.  Yes, even nuclear reactors need a maintenance schedule.  That cost gets built into their budgets or we melt down.

In Miami, the consequence of not remembering the future works like this.  The parking lot says you must pay on the way out.  The machine on floor one is “out of service.”  The machine on two and three are also “out of service.”  You still must pay on the way out.  But you can’t get out because you can’t pay, so you can’t get out.  You wander around, wondering who has the maintenance contract on the parking machines, who got to write the signs that tell you there is no exit available to you and that you are stuck in a parking garage.  I like to think these parking garages will become vertical gardens when cars sputter their final sput.  But that will take remembering the future, now.

There are alternatives to being stuck or melted down or blown up.  They involve thick skins as well as onionskins.  These thick skins risk the tenderness of dying because that is how they re thicken. 

The alternatives involve noticing that the present is the product of the past, stewarded and composted into a future.  Is this a sneaky plea for increasing your pledge to Judson, that great guardian of seed corn that the colonialists try and fail to destroy?  Yup.  It is also my Easter greeting to you.  Rise well, today, tomorrow and yesterday.

Want to ask questions or find out more about Senior Minister Donna Schaper's experimental "Gardenlab" compound in Fishkill?  Email her today.



February 20, 2011

In California I have been been eating a lot of oysters…….

Oysters have a distinct terroir, which is a wonky wine term used to describe how place affects product.  A river, inlet, or bay imparts a unique flavor to each oyster. 

Similarly, we are gifted by our origins.  I am still having a romance with the Hudson River, on whose banks I was born.  My grandfather grew strawberries and potatoes.  That’s all he ever grew, year in and year out.  He had a stubbornness.  His two products had a taste that was called “Jack Waterman,” whom some people thought was a rural mail carrier who worked the mountains near Woodstock, New York.  He was actually a potato and strawberry man.  His food smelled like him, which was a mix of cigar smoke and rubber bands, the kind that wrap the mail.  The cigar smoke came from something he did in the garage.  “Jack, “ Ella, my grandmother, would call to him, “You’re not smoking cigars out there, are you?”  “No, Ella, I’m not.”  He grew a good strawberry and was also a good liar.  He would wink at us, while teaching us the fine art of the fib.

As Thoreau explained it (Journal, August 30, 1856):  “It is vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such.  It is the bog in our brain and bowel, the primitive vigor of Nature in us.”  We cannot undo our origins.  They come with us, in brain and bowel.  They are gifts, the gift of terroir and influence.  If you are from a place, the place has marked you.

Believe it or not, we are unique!  “The bird-lover in a wood at once distinguishes the twittering of different species, which to ordinary people sound the same,” said Marcel Proust.   Some people think all congregations are alike…they are not, unless you are an ordinary person, with an ordinary grandfather, whose smell and taste is indistinct to those whose senses are dulled.

I have tried to grow Jack Waterman potatos and failed.  I have also tried to grow his strawberries, by whose tendrils I have often kneeled.  Some thought I was praying, but I was actually weeding.  I mean praying.

Some people understand the grace of place and origin.  Others imagine they “had to get out” or that they come “from no where.”

We need never be terrified of our terroir.  It tendrils us.


Want to ask questions or find out more about Senior Minister Donna Schaper's experimental "Gardenlab" compound in Fishkill?  Email her today.


Winter 2011

Holy Shit!

The best time to pile a load of manure on your dormant dirt is right after the first snow and right before the second snow.  If you miss that window, any time before a snow storm is optimal. 

Why?  The shit seeps into the soil slowly.  It releases its multiple nutrients -- manure is NOT JUST nitrogen -- all spring as the snow melts into the ground. The manure tea blesses the soul of the soil without being overwhelming, like so many divine interventions are. 

Also, when it is that merciful time to churn the soil in preparation for spring's seeds, much of the manure will have broken down to a manageable mess.  It also won't stink as you work it in.  So if you have been thinking about how to make your shit not stink -- or your dirt to be daringly fertile -- load the manure on now. 

Windowbox in Manhattan Pick up some cow turds upstate.  Plop them on the box.  Hope for snow.

There are even more advantages to this preparation.  You are "working" on your garden passively.  You are not just aching for spring.  You are making spring stronger.

By the way, one of my pet peeves about restaurant waitstaff, which applies here.  You will be slowly eating your food, enjoying each bite.  (At two dollars a forkful, who wouldn't?)  The waitstaff appears out of no where, with hand reaching out to your plate.  "Are you done working on that?"  I never was working on it, I usually reply. I was always playing with it.  Manure on snow plays.  It doesn't work.  It plays and slowly digests its worth with the soil's worth, and next thing you know, you have a garden that actually grows things.


Want to ask questions or find out more about Senior Minister Donna Schaper's experimental "Gardenlab" compound in Fishkill? Email her today.



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