Mother Knows Best
It seems fitting that, as we wait impatiently for winter to depart our chilly corner of the country and take with it the unseasonally late hail, snow, and cold, we count our many blessings.
As we wait for the sun to warm the soil, and kickstart start the annual garden to table pilgrimage of sustenance we enjoy while millions of people across the world struggle with food insecurity, we can anticipate and reflect upon the April 22 arrival of Mother Earth Day a.k.a. Earth Day.
Mother Earth, according to the United Nations, is “urging a call to action”. Before she shakes her iron fist in retribution for conscious neglect — driving the human species to self-imposed extinction — she is mothering us gently, telling us to do the right thing by her and each other.
She is nudging us awake with fires, floods, and famine, before it’s too late. “Tend to my gardens,” she warns, “or they will die, and you gotta know that won’t bode well for you.”
Stern parenting to be sure, but also hopeful and entirely doable. All we need to know about life, we can in fact learn in a garden — quietly, patiently.
A garden is filled with more than just plants, it is filled with opportunities, memories, lessons, loss, and unconditional love. A garden is a place to contemplate, refine and reflect on one’s life and values.
During the pandemic, I had plenty of quiet garden time to consider my place in the world as well as the very real and terrifying possibility that my time in it may end prematurely.
I considered this realization a gift, one that fortified and amplified my mid-life decision to change vocations and attempt to make a big green dent in the world — or exercise positive influence in it, at least.
In my garden, I have grown perspective and courage. Perhaps more precisely, I came to understand that the fierce determination that I once assigned intuitively to mothering, nurturing and defending our children — fabulous young adults now — could and should be poured deliberately into mothering, nurturing and defending natural systems.
What does courage have to do with mothering, nature, and gardening? Everything. At least in a world where curated perfection, insatiable accumulation, and celebrity idolization are somehow, slowly, replacing the four basic virtues of ‘temperance, prudence, courage, and justice’ with ‘bigger, better, faster and more’.
Earlier this week I was considering a passage in Ryan Holiday’s book Courage is Calling: Fortune Favours the Brave, about the crazy-making and potentially paralyzing paradox of doing the right thing. He wrote, of the conundrum, “You have to be crazy not to hear them when they tell you you’re crazy”.
When I heard Holiday’s liberating words (during a Podcast while gardening mid-hailstorm), I experienced a visceral reaction of solar plexus pain — the same intense but paradoxically liberating pain I felt when standing up to bully teachers, coaches or other adults in defense of my children, and more recently, to a non-fan voicing uninformed and animated opposition to my non-conforming “crazy lady” defense of trees and bees.
My take on the moment is that, many of us now live in a world far removed from a simpler time not long ago (an evolutionary blink of an eye), when a calm, kind and demonstrable sense of community defined our communities. When a more generous worldview upheld a commitment to the greater good, and to doing the right thing in thoughts and deeds, even when it hurts.
Thankfully, urban permaculture, even gardening organically are gateways back to a place in which looking after ourselves, looking after our planet, and looking after each other are not merely inextricably linked, they form the very foundation of societal and environmental repair.
The three foundational ethics (virtues) of permaculture, and so then urban permaculture are ‘earth care’, ‘people care’, and ‘fair share’ — to my way of thinking, the cumulative antidote to all that ails us. Who though, is holding us accountable, and why aren’t we listening?
We know the answer, and we ignore her at our peril.
It could be nice to slow down the noisy, ultra-glam, super-charged convertible and power suited treadmill long enough to step off, perhaps clumsily, without falling. If I can do it (mea culpa; I did) and be happier than ever (I am), anyone can.
Let’s be content, kind, brave and courageous and together, and garden as if our lives depend on it.
Mother Earthly Activities
Small steps to take with children, neighbours and community. "If you do the thing, you become the thing," said someone very clever.
• Plant ‘dwarf peas on twigs’ or radishes in a pot now, for Mother’s Day gifting.
• Plant a pollinator-friendly pot of barbeque herbs now for Father’s Day gifting.
• Replace high-maintenance lawn with elegant, easy-care, hail and snow-hardy bee-turf.
• Start a small food and flower garden that won’t require too much time, space or money.
• Stop using, and safely dispose of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides.
• Plant a kid-friendly ‘please eat the berries’ patch of boulevard strawberries.
• Suggest a garden friendly book like 'Nature's Best Hope' at your next book club meeting.
• Make or purchase garden-friendly gifts for friends and family, especially children.
• Start a free left-over seed bank in your neighborhood.
• Stand up for trees, bees, birds and butterflies.
• Wear ‘garden hair’ and muddy boots proudly — to dinner.
Happy Mother Earth Week to you and yours, from a proud to be called "crazy", tree-hugging bee lover.