My Lessons from Nature.
This year so far, our spring has been indecisive and teasing. In one sleep, our wild weather vacillates from hard freeze to near 80 degrees. Since February, I’ve been growing African daisies, marigolds, okra, and basil in my makeshift greenhouse.
What’s a makeshift greenhouse? In my world, it’s a folding table shoved in front of a sunny window in our garage. Our garage is heated, so it works until we can build a real greenhouse.
I have succulent and coleus cuttings, and a bulb of fennel the butterflies will love. Ten days ago, John and I rescued a flat of waterlogged coreopsis being sold at the nursery for next to nothing. After only a few days of drying time in our warm greenhouse, they made a huge comeback and are ready to go in the soil.
Yes, we are plant rescuers. When fair-weathered friends toss Halloween chrysanthemums to the curb, we’ve been known to haul them home in the trunk of our vehicle and nurse them back to health.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m getting antsy with this greenhouse arrangement. I rotate the plants so that no one hogs the sunlight. On warm days, I take them outside for fresh air and direct sunlight. Before dark, I return them inside because frost is still a real threat. I am teaching them the importance of taking baby steps.
You have to be patient, I tell them.
They continue to wait.
I provide water and promises of this too shall pass.
I don’t know if they can hear me, but I think they can.
All this waiting and watching the weather has me thinking about the lessons I’ve learned from nature and gardening and life as a farm girl. You know that book All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten? I might say the same for nature. Most everything I’ve learned, I learned from a connection to nature, playing outside, growing up on a farm.
I’ll start with patience, because this is a big one especially this time of year. Nurseries, with their bursting at the seams greenhouses and sidewalks chock full of geranium flats test our self-restraint early on. We re-think what we know to be true.
Maybe I can go ahead and plant these (fill in the blank with your favorite flower).
No. Listen to the little gardener voice that knows the proper planting time for your zone.
Once the soil warms and finally we can plant, we still practice restraint. Don’t plant too close together. No over-crowding. Everything needs room to breathe. Any by everything I mean seeds, people, animals, ideas.
Nature presses her hand on our heads and teaches us to wait. We wait for buds to open, fronds to unfurl, eggs to hatch, goats to kid. Sometimes it takes half a lifetime to learn that nature doesn’t hurry, and we may as well enjoy the journey.
Nature’s lessons of survival can be the most difficult. Every living thing has a life cycle, yet we are guaranteed nothing. Some creatures have lifespans of only a few hours or days. Others live months or years, a flash in the pan of existence. Nature teaches us to trust in the master plan. And that, yes, if we are to reap anything, first we must sow it. After we sow it, say a prayer. Life is a gamble, especially in the wild.
Fretting over new seedlings, being devastated over a dead baby bird. Feeling sad when a chrysalis turns black and withers away, a monarch never to be. Nature teaches us to widen our circle of compassion for all living creatures. It’s weighty stuff, compassion. Feeling responsible tugs on our soul, strengthens morality and kindness. Lord knows we need more of it. If everyone would spend an hour a day in nature, the world would be a better place.
I grow dill weed primarily for the caterpillars who munch it to oblivion. Any dill that survives, I chop and use in potato or chicken salad, sprinkle in sour cream dips. In fall, dried stalks go into the compost with other food scraps, dry leaves, and grass clippings. Eventually, I have rich soil to add to that same bed to grow more dill weed. Next season’s caterpillars enjoy the dill, emerge as monarchs, and overwinter in Mexico. This lesson from nature is key. This cycle, this connection of growing and giving back to the earth keeps life peaceful and in balance. Mother Teresa said, If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Sometimes nature’s lesson is as simple as opening our eyes. If we pay attention, plants and animals tell us what they need even though they speak a different, more subtle language. The problem arises when we are too wrapped up in ourselves to listen. Nature teaches us to open our senses to the world around us. When we do, we understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Not even close.
“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” (Leo Tolstoy)
Do what comes naturally.
Yikes. All I have to do is look at a picture of myself in the 1980s to see that it took me a while I understand this one. I wanted curly hair, so I got a perm. I wanted tan skin, so I baked my freckles. In the past, when I’ve tried to grow something that doesn’t do well in my area, I expend excess water, a heap of fertilizer, and way too much effort. Then, it still doesn’t flourish. How many azaleas did I fret over in Dallas? In their place, Indian Hawthorn thrived. In our Fayetteville garden, we are working to add more native plantings. They are native for a reason.
I’d like to believe I’ve entered into a kinder, gentler time of my life. That I move through the day observing a “less is more” mentality. I no longer strive for a pristine lawn. Instead, I celebrate the bees buzzing in the dandelions.
Because of our roller coaster weather this spring, my hostas currently resemble wilted salad. But I know they will come back. Maybe this spring, maybe the next. Nature combines all her lessons to cultivate in me a stronger, greater trust in a higher power, my God of creation. The beauty I see in nature reinforces my faith, making those things I don’t understand and can’t see that much more extraordinary.
“It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.” (C. S. Lewis)
There are many, many other lessons from nature, but the day is calling and I have things to do. Get outside if you can. Enjoy this beautiful week.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
Louis Armstrong, What A Wonderful World