16 Feb 09 Garden 018

Tune by body and my brain

to the music from the land.

- Dave Mallett

It was back in November that our gardening youth group began clearing an overgrown plot of unused land, strewn with popsicle sticks and fading wrappers.

At the time, some were cynical, thinking that we should just plant ilengalenga, a quick growing leafy green that we could harvest in a month.  I admit I too had my moments of doubt.  Some of the soil is pretty lifeless, largely compacted clay that has been serving well to house termites but is not so kind to roots wanting air and nourishment.

But this week the eggplants were ready for harvesting, looking like heavy, dark purple balloons that no longer belong in their parent’s slender green arms.

16 Feb 09 Garden 007

Those that find it inefficient for me to spend my own muscle power growing food when I could eat food produced in a factory, or produced by the very inexpensive labor of others – perhaps they haven’t recently sat down to a dinner grown and cooked by themselves.  To know where your food comes from – not just which continent, but to have known it from birth, having seen it through its struggles, to maturity, and then having paired it with spices and heat to draw out its flavor, texture and nutrients – how else am I to spend the finite strength of my physical being?  In using my body I care for it and make it stronger, and tune my mind to the community and earth around me.

16 Feb 09 Garden 020

Sometimes, on hot sunny days when I have other things to do, I admit I don’t really feel like taking the bus over to Kamenge, sweating, and struggling to interact across barriers of language and culture, being outside of my comfort zone.

That’s when I need it the most.  That’s when I need to be drawn out of my little ethereal bubble.  I’m not, in fact, an unconnected consciousness or a node in the internet.  My mind is nourished, dependent on nourishment, through the working of my nerves, muscles, tendons; by the consumption of food which must be grown in the complex diversity of the soil and the rays of a distant sun.  Today’s rain was stirred up by currents — created by the earth’s rotation and a swirling complex of temperatures — that bring oceans to fall from the sky.

The sun rises, sets, rain falls, evaporates.  At dusk bats begin to stir in the trees and then make crooked paths for Congo, then return before I awake.  Migrating birds pass high overhead.  While I sleep, termites build their elaborate subterranean castles.  While I read the news, colonies of ants set forth, conquer, enslave, battle torrents of water, collapse.  I have not looked to see.

I’m connected to the earth, to an earth I’m drawn to all my life by gravity, by material needs, by a sense of belonging.

20 Feb 09 Garden 011 

Community gardening is people coming together, organizing, planning, uniting their actions and dreams.

As Hannah Arendt suggested, the power that really moves mountains is not coercive force, which breaks down and constrains, but the constructive, collaborative power of people finding a common purpose and orienting themselves towards the realization of that goal.  Not a quick, destructive power, but a slow, cultivating one.

A plant will bend to force, but it does not thereby produce fruit.  You have to ask it.  Ask it with your action.

At times in my life I have gotten a little too drawn into the seeming vast expanse of the internet, a little too comforted by the straight lines of spreadsheets and graphs, a bit too enveloped by stories told on paper.  Back to the rough ground!  To clearing the overlooked, overgrown spaces of our lives and bringing them under deliberate care and nurturing.  Communities are not built with bricks; they are formed by the creating and pulling taut of a web of relationships that can support understanding, acceptance, and love.

For those in the northern hemisphere, despair not!  Spring is on its way.  Go ahead, get a little dirt under your fingernails.  If your neighbor gardens as well, she won’t hesitate to shake your strong, calloused hand.

20 Feb 09 Garden 017