Dad grew up on a farm. He sold hybrid seed corn as a boy. And he always had a garden, for as long as I can remember. Whether trenching the roses to protect them from the harsh Minnesota winters, dividing the irises to give them room to flourish or tying back the peonies with their weighty blossoms tipping to the earth below, his attention to multiple, varied tasks assured recurring seasonal beauty.
The wedge hoe that Dad’s Dad used to cultivate sugar beets has a special place among the tools I use to this day to loosen the clay soil in my gardens. The roses are there along with peonies and irises and several hundred tulips which miraculously escape noshing by the rabbits and deer that still promenade prominently through our yard each Spring. Season after season, my finger nails gritty dirty, I dig in the soil, pull the weeds, and discover anew the wonder of it all – a nest of turtle eggs buried just beneath the mulch, forgotten hosta pushing through their green sprouts in neglected shade, new spikes of purple liatris wedged between the landscape boulders, raspberry canes spreading more wildly than ever throughout the beds.
The seeds I plant sometimes sprout, sometimes flourish and bear fruit, sometimes never break open – and eventually always die. To produce more seeds. Maybe this is why I so look forward to multiple trips to the Farmers’ Market each Spring to buy sturdy seedlings; I can eliminate some of the chance that accompanies my recurring efforts to keep things lush and verdant. Despite the apparent randomness, there is a reproductive wonder that grasps me year after year, the outcome of which remains a mystery.
Beyond my gardens which bring substance and beauty to the place on earth I call home, I know I have planted seeds all my life. Sometimes I want much quicker and more visible confirmation that they have taken root than what the environment offers up. Often my most thoughtful, intentional placing of an idea, or a more strenuous active initiative, seems to land in the ditch, with little or no chance of making a damn bit of difference. Not that I am solely preoccupied with establishing my place in the world. But I want my presence in the world to bear fruit of some sort. I want to make a difference to others, most particularly to others whose path has crossed mine, whether for only a fleeting moment or a lifetime of companionship.
Dad died last week. My brother, Peter, went to his bedside that night upon learning of his death. While saying “good-bye” for all of us he discovered in a book beside Dad’s bed a copy of a poem I had written many years ago. He snapped a photo of the poem and texted it to me in those hours immediately after Dad slipped out of this world into another. I don’t remember sending it to him; I don’t remember ever discussing the poem with him. But the re-discovery of that poem allowed me to feel closer to him and perhaps him to me even as we parted in death. Little did I know the seed I had planted years before.