Tag Archives: gardening

Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn

Now can be a challenging time to be a human. A global pandemic has killed over 4 million of us and infected over 200 million, with no signs yet that the number of cases or deaths is abating. The United States of America has just become the most recent foreign government to exit Afghanistan after a lengthy ground war. Whether that country can meet its many challenges remains to be seen. Within the USA, recent severe weather has caused deaths and destruction in nearly every region, with floods in the South and East and wildfires in the West. There are so far few indication that widespread wars, deaths, or destruction are likely to end any time soon. 

Now is the season in the part of the globe where I live when children return to school  after a traditional summer break. On a recent weekend, I volunteered with a group of parents and community members to help clean the outdoor spaces at my granddaughter’s elementary school before the start of classes. Time spent at the campus gave me a broader exposure to the school than I’d earlier gotten while picking her up at her classroom. Many classroom doors had inspirational sayings written beneath the teacher’s name. Some were fairly pat, “You’re amazing;” “You’re awesome;” “You can do it;” etc. 

One door had an inscription that was new to me: “Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn.” A brief internet search showed the slogan as the title of a book written by American motivational speaker, consultant and pastor John C. Maxwell in 2013. I haven’t yet read the book; I was favorably disposed toward it after learning that its foreword was written by former basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA fame.  

If there has been one positive aspect to the covid-19 pandemic for me so far, it’s been the motivation to spend an increasing proportion of my waking hours outdoors. Public health officials counsel outdoor activity, especially socially distanced outdoor activity, as one aspect of an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Along with the use of face masks, reduced crowd size at both indoor and outdoor events, contact tracing, and vaccination, the use of the outdoors for as many activities as practical is recommended. 

I love to garden. For me, putting seeds in the soil and having plants later appear is little short of miraculous. I also love to participate in group singing. Now that most choirs are virtual, I’ve developed a pandemic ritual of listening to recordings of favorite hymns. A special blessing in this challenging time has been the lyric “Earth Was Given As a Garden.” (You can listen to one version at  youtube.com/watch?v=hmlV65kdt84, a recording by the UU Chancel Choir of Oakland, CA.)  When I’ve had a discouraging day, the final few lines help renew my hope: 

“…bid our waste and warfare cease,
Fill us all with grace o’erflowing,
Teach us how to live in peace.” 

Amen!  

Didace’s Garden

Didace’s Garden   —by Jinny Batterson

It’s a magical time of year here in central North Carolina. The trees have leaves of that vibrant green that’s unique to early spring, before they gradually darken and fade in the heat and dust of later seasons. Shrubs and flowers bloom in profusion, both in cultivated spaces and in parks and woodlands where they’ve either originated or escaped. Recently I spent a couple of hours “tidying up” parts of a traveling friend’s back yard. Mostly, I wanted an excuse to revel in the colors and blooms of the nearly solid wall of azaleas along one side of her property.   

As I raked and pruned, I remembered a different garden, a different season, a different part of the world. For a couple of years in the 1980’s, I had a temporary assignment in the small central African country of Burundi. Most weekdays, I worked in a rural development office in the country’s capital city of Bujumbura, participating in a project to strengthen and diversify a network of consumer/producer cooperatives throughout the country. Burundi then had a few business people and high government officials with great material wealth, a local and expatriate community of civil servants and shop owners who lived modestly, and over 90% of its populace who ground out a bare living as subsistence farmers. It is somewhat ironic that this Peace-Corps-like assignment was the only time in my life when I had human household help. Modern appliances were few; electricity was expensive and intermittent; having an employee to tend the yard was a godsend. My duplex neighbor and I shared a gardener/night watchman, Didace.

Any lasting impact I had in the country was more likely a result of my interactions with Didace than of any tasks I accomplished at the office. Though he had little formal education, Didace was proud of his skills as a small-hold farmer. While he scoffed at my feeble attempts to grow temperate-climate vegetables in the tropics, he faithfully dug small plots for me in September and January, at the beginnings of each of the country’s two rainy seasons. Later, he tracked down supports for the pea and bean vines that straggled upward. The income he got from maintaining foreigners’ gardens supplemented what he could grow on his farm to eat or sell, helping provide a better life for his family.

Before the first Christmas season of my assignment (which occurred during a lull between the shorter and longer of the two rainy seasons), I mentioned to Didace that I would be traveling to Greece to see family over the holiday. Was there anything I could bring back for him and his family as a small gift?  He thought for a while, then explained that what he’d really enjoy were some pictures of his family and his small farm. Didace had noticed the snapshots of family and travels that I kept on the room divider in our open-plan bungalow. Would I be willing to visit his home, take pictures with my (traditional) camera, then get the film developed on my trip and bring back several of the best photos?

We made plans for me to borrow a project vehicle one weekend in early December and to drive, then walk, to his family’s home in the hills above town. The paved road quickly became dirt, which gradually got more potholed and rutted. Didace met me at the intersection of the road and a person-wide path that led further into the hills. Once we arrived at his house, he pointed with pride to the tin roof he’d recently installed with a loan/advance on his monthly wages. He introduced me to his wife and two young sons, and then showed me around the small plots where they grew beans, corn, and cassava, a root vegetable whose tubers provided most of the carbohydrates of the Burundian diet. At one edge of the house was a small banana grove. A few chickens scratched in the dirt.

Then, in a small fenced area, I saw a flower garden. If memory serves, it had a mixture of gladiolas, dahlias, and other showy flowers I didn’t recognize. They were beautiful. I asked why his family chose to grow flowers on some of their limited acreage. Partly, he said, so they could sell the best blooms at the Bujumbura central market for additional income. But mainly, just because they were pretty. I wish I had made and kept copies of the pictures of Didace and his garden. Beauty knows no boundaries.