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A View From The Woods - Why Garden?

By Loni Kemp

Fri, Sep 13th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

Most mornings I grab a small bowl and walk out to the little ever-bearing strawberry patch I started last year. I make my way around the edges of the bed, plucking red berries that apparently like our hot and humid summer just fine. Pushing the coarse leaves aside, I find treasures, tossing those already invaded by picnic bugs across the lawn. A cupful of berries is my daily take.

The dew moistens a garden which hasn’t seen a good rain for at least six weeks but is still thriving with my sporadic watering. I look up to see the sky a pale blue, crossed with hazy white summer clouds lazing their way eastward. I hear a blue jay, a cardinal, and various other tweets and songs from birds which remain hidden in the woods. Grasshoppers and cicadas fill the air with sound. I glance up to see apples turning red, and walnut trees across the meadow turning yellow amongst their green neighbors, as they always do before we even realize summer is ending. The neighbor boy rides up bareback to round up a few other horses needed at home and chases them along the forest trail to their place. The air smells humid and rich on this windless day in mid-September.

Having fresh berries with granola every morning is surely one reason I garden. Raising wholesome organic food is very important to the way we want to eat. One simply can’t buy, at any price, fresh green peas still in the pod, or heavy Brandywine tomatoes ripened to absolute perfection, or unusual melons like Crenshaw and yellow watermelon. Even ordinary foods bring a special satisfaction when you grew them yourself, like big fat potatoes and skinny green beans picked young.

Yet what keeps me enthralled in the garden goes far beyond the tangible products. The unexpected gifts of engaging on a personal level with nature never cease to delight me.

The miracle of the seed is a mystery. I bury it in dirt, but then a different life force takes over to reveal a distinct leaf and flower and harvestable food.

A rare and beautiful butterfly flits by, which I see to be a Monarch. This one is the fifth or sixth generation of this year, now making its way for the winter in Mexico, a land which this individual has never seen. I used to see dozens of Monarchs clustered on Joe-Pye Weed at this time of year, but only few have visited all summer. I pray for plentiful milkweeds along the butterfly’s journey south, and that farmers will stop expanding corn fields and spraying herbicides near milkweed habitat.

I often have to interact with moles, voles, raccoons, rabbits, deer. At first I hate them and want to exclude them. Over the years as I work out my deterrents, I learn about the animals’ wild lives, and we work out a truce. I hear from hunters that this is part of their engagement with nature too. They want to hunt and kill a deer for meat, but they learn to enjoy even more learning about the deer’s ways and spending long times in their environment.

For me, exercise is most enjoyable when it is purposeful. Digging, hauling mulch, turning compost, reaching over my head to pick a thousand apples—these necessary activities work my body and help me sleep well.

Maybe the best part of gardening is just losing my thoughts in the flow of the process. I can deadhead spent flowers and pull weeds for hours without thinking of...anything. I am doing, improving, cleaning, observing. Time goes away, worries fade, and I emerge hot and sweaty but happy.

Most of my time I spend solely in my brain, reading, writing, thinking and talking as I consult on environmental and agriculture issues of our day. I love my work. Yet to be happy and healthy, we need to step out of our heads and live life directly. I cultivate a garden. Others bring up children, nurture friendships, tend a community, heal the planet. These are all pathways to peace.

Loni’s Granola

1 cup nuts (slivered almonds, walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts)

10 cups regular oatmeal

1 cup wheat germ

1 cup ground flax seed

1 cup coconut (dried unsweetened or shredded sweetened)

1 tsp sea salt

Optional: oat bran, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon

Stir all together in a large roasting pan or broiler pan.

1 cup coconut oil (or canola or sunflower oil)

1 cup honey

2 T vanilla

Measure the oil first, then the honey in the same cup, and the honey will slip right out. Warm the oil, honey and vanilla in a small pan. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir to coat. Bake 375 degrees for 25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until it begins to brown. Stir a couple of times while it cools in the pan. Store in a covered container. Serve with berries or raisins, kefir or yogurt or milk, and maybe a dollop of maple syrup.

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