When I was a girl, I lived for the outdoors.
My earliest memories are of being outside, playing in the aspen grove near our farmhouse where I built a private home of my own design (mostly imaginary) and where I left my Eaton’s beauty dolls to die in the rain. Their faces fell off.
Even earlier, I remember being not as tall as the cosmos but tall enough to look the bachelor buttons right in the eye as my grandmother tended the vegetables. I can still hear the sound of the bees humming in my ears and smell the earth as it roasted insects in the scorching prairie sun.
I remember getting caught up in a tree and being afraid to climb down what was so easily ascended. I thought I would be stuck up there forever until my dad came a lifted me off the easily reachable branch.
I chased bees with a glass jar used for preserves. I licked the salt licks that the cows licked to discover what the magic was. I marvelled at a March day when I was five and the snow had receded too early for the year, leaving the grass dry and sear.
The woods behind the one-room schoolhouse is where I hid over lunch hour from a bullying boy when I had just turned six and before we left for the city. Tattling was frowned on then, so it was put up, shut up or fight back. I threw stones at the boys when I sat on the swings and they wanted to give me a push. Years later one of those boys told me they thought I was cute.
Wandering the prairie meadows with my mother and sister to pick brown eyed Susans and tiger lilies or finding shy lady’s slippers in a shady spot near the woods taught me the language of my childhood. Eating juicy green peas off the vine and blowing dandelion fluff to discover the time, coming inside when the sun went down and walking down dusty roads with my Dad – these were the joys of life when the future was unimaginable.
So, outdoors and the garden were baked into my being like apples in a pie, so much of the sweetness of my life bound up inside the crusty exterior that I revealed to the world. As a young mother, I recall how I dreamed of being out in the country and able to feel the warm air surround and caress me. I talked my husband into abandoning his parent’s comfy cottage to buy a tent so we could go camping. I had visions of wildflowers and sleeping under the navy-coloured sky where we could gaze at the brilliance that peppered the world above us.
I still search for those feelings in my garden and often, on a warm July evening, I will fall asleep under the fir tree that hugs its neighbouring cedars and shelters me from the home next door. Sometimes I feel the need to be recharged by the earth and I will lay a blanket on the ground and fall asleep in the shade of the spreading Manitoba maple that planted itself in my yard.
Now, it is March once again. At this time of year, my eyes long for green and I feed my need by wandering through photographs of summers past. It is amazing how quickly we accustom ourselves to the bounty of a Manitoba summer, the burning greens, the brilliant blues, the intense colours of the season made all the more vivid by our fresh, clear air. Then, after months of white, all that fades, except for a longing and that sense of activity building beneath the earth. I call it thrumming. Do others feel this? My friend, Mr. Tomato, says when spring finally does arrive, he can hear buds break on a still springtime night. He is one of those keenly aware folks blessed with the natural gift of holding the garden in his soul.
Another friend, Shea, also has this gift. He sees all the tiny things that others ignore. He can hear corn pop as it grows. He talks to bees and understands the subtlest signals of the world around him. He is still very young to have these gifts, but he grew up with them and he carries his knowledge around like a bag of goodies that leaves a trail of joy behind him. Ever curious, ever learning, he grows figs for the public in his prairie greenhouse and raises fish for the children that drop by. He had a collection of a thousand succulents before anyone else ever cared. (if you come to Manitoba or want to see him, go to https://www.ourfarm.biz/greenhouse.html#/ and watch his silly videos with his sisters! He comes from a family or 13 – or is it 14? And they are all filled with gardening joy – well, maybe not all quite as much as Shea, but then, few are.
Then there is my friend Gardening Helen, who raises monarch butterflies. She knows all their metamorphosing habits and how to repair a damaged wing. She is my age, a little at the top end of life, but she is totally involved with living. That is how it should be. And the garden teaches us this lesson.
We live. We grow. We change with the seasons. But we are and always will be, part of life on this planet.