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Thanks and Struggles – Growing stuff

By William Alexander | June 19, 2014

Today I am thankful for how much I know about myself and “nature,” how much there is yet to discover about myself and “nature,” and for the hope and faith implicit in the sacred act of gardening. I am struggling with staying true to the 100 day plan I made for work, physical discomfort from the Tough Mudder and perhaps this new medicine, and the deer in the back yard who I doubt understand investments, interest rates, or the lifetime consumption hypothesis.
I just have to put “nature” in quotes because I can’t find the line where “me” ends and “nature” begins. Especially when there’s so much dirt under my fingernails, and every itch threatens to be a tick, making its way along the home stretch. Today I’m thankful for what I know and am aware of. At Mountain Justice camp (yes, I still go to those, but my politics have changed) this week, someone asked me if I know much about plants. I told them I grew mint. Mint is the easiest plant of all. Do you want some? Grab a couple of inches from a happy mint plant, stick it in some dirt, and you have your own mint. You can’t possibly water it too much, and if you let it dry out, it will come back next year, even after its corpse freezes solid. I don’t know much about plants, but I have some mint.

“Do you clone plants frequently?” they asked.
“Well, I guess I’ve done that a couple times with the mint. And also I do it now with lemon balm. And I have some sage growing that could probably be propagated this way. And sometimes if I’m walking and I find a plant I like and even if I don’t know what it is, I’ll take a cutting and see if it will take root. I have a couple plants this has worked for, including some rosemary.” Rather than the words themselves, the amount of time I spoke caused me to think. I apparently know a thing or two about plants, and I can even help them grow sometimes! This surprising amount of knowledge applies to my “own” life/self, as well. I sometimes think if I were more like a “normal” person, I’d have myself all figured out. Instead, I bet I’m pretty far from average with regards to how I experience gender and sexuality, how I participate in religion and relationships, and what my morals and politics are. My feelings about most things are deep, conflicting, and inconsistent.

Best of all, there is so much *more* to be learned! Plants and feelings, like everything, are dynamic systems. Systems. Say it again. Feedback loops, weird level-set changes, interconnected processes which are functions of one another. Incalculably complex.

I brought home some Indian Cucumber from Kentucky. It’s my favorite edible wild. A dear friend took me hunting (for roots!) on Tuesday, and when we found some, we just sat and experienced the scene. I’ve only seen Indian Cucumber at places where there’s been ferns and moss. That much, I knew. I realized, after talking to Carol, that I’ve always been able to stick my hands 2-3 inches into the dirt with basically no resistance. Once I started digging, I tried to imagine where else I could imagine the dirt. “You know what this feels like? It feels like when a log has gotten so rotten that you can’t tell the difference between the dirt and the log. That’s where Indian Cucumber must grow.” Later I came to realize I’ve always seen it on a slight hill and near some sand. This is just a plant, but it’s already got so many preferences!

As we hiked back, I explained a thing or two to our third hunting companion, and realized more deeply that I do, indeed, know a thing or two about plants. The conversation shifted to Zen practice, mindfulness, and patience, and I realized I also know a thing or two about that stuff, too. (ignore the Zen blasphemy in those sentences, as skillful means. for me?) Importantly, knowledge in both of these provide me with a full tool belt for when I’m feeling anxious. The internal and external are made manifest through anything, but these two languages speak to me in harmony with one another.

I don’t need to be near sand, but I do love rotten wood and nice, finished compost. I still need time to sit down in the dirt and acknowledge the scene where I thrive. Sitting down would also help my knee heal after that 10 mile obstacle course. In fact! Sitting down would be helpful for me to finish making my experiment program more object oriented! Maybe it’s time for me to be still. That sounds pretty permaculture to me.

I feel content and happy. The world is full of possibilities, and who knows, maybe Indian Cucumber can learn to live with the opportunities I can provide.

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