“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
After a week of walking along the beach with my toes in the cold Pacific waters, I returned to home to cold March winds and snow that won’t seem to melt. My mind is wandering and my heart is hankering for signs of spring – something green or a little miracle of sorts. To sooth my spirit I began planning a garden. For the past four summers, I’ve tucked some thyme and basil in terracotta pots on our deck and called it a garden. We spent more time at a cabin in Ontario than in our own backyard, which was a gorgeous blessing for us, but left little time for tending garden. As we will be at home this summer, it felt like a garden was in order, and not just pretty pots of thyme and basil.
I have a friend, Lana, who hails from the Sakha peoples of eastern Siberia and grew up in place called Yakutsk. Before meeting Lana, my knowledge of Yakutsk was nil. What I know about Russia and Siberia comes from Russian literature, which is generally not known for its cheerful outlook on life. Add to that the fact that I grew up surrounded by Cold War propaganda and all that Siberia conjures up in my mind are bleak, frigid landscapes and the ghosts of gulags. Recently, Dear Hubby and I have been watching a new show called The Americans. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Russian spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C. in the early 80s, at the end of the Cold War, a time I remember vividly albeit through a child’s eye. The show is a fascinating look at the propaganda and paranoia that ran rampant in America and the Soviet Union at the time. A few weeks ago, I asked Lana if she had practiced duck and cover drills when she was in elementary school. Those of you too young to remember these, a duck and cover drill is like fire drill or tornado drill, only rather than seeking safety in the event of a natural disaster, we practiced ducking behind a shelter (such as a table or under a desk) and covering our heads and necks with our hands as protection against a nuclear attack. Lana remembered these drills. Apparently they had the added protection of gas masks. We talked about the misinformation and disinformation we were taught about each other’s country. Younger generations might have trouble understanding the fear and animosity of that time. Mutual nuclear destruction caused me as much anxiety as did the monsters that lived under my bed. I remember a young American named Samantha Smith who wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, asking if he wanted to go to war. He wrote back and the following summer she visited the Soviet Union on as a sort of youth ambassador. It was big news here and there. Young Samantha’s journey seemed nothing short of miraculous at the time and I followed her story with rapt attention. When I was a child, peace between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. didn’t seem likely in my lifetime. And yet, here we are. I met Lana when our youngest kidlets attended early childhood classes together. She and her family live in the States now and, given the era in which we grew up, I count it as no small wonder that I may call her a friend. As it turns out, the small patch of green outside Lana’s front door is not well suited for gardening, so we hatched a plan to garden together this year. Unlikely friends and a garden.
So, this past week while our little girls shouted things like “We’re robot princesses! And kings and queens and pirates too!” as they ran upstairs and down wearing a mishmash of costumes, Lana and I planned our garden. We discussed what vegetables we ought to plant, how much each would yield, how much space we would need, and what sort of raised beds would be most cost effective. We consulted Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, the University of Minnesota’s extension service web site, and The Practical Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Lana talked about showing young Aita how the plants would grow. I debated if I would be able to grow garlic if I hadn’t planted bulbs in the autumn. After much discussion, we settled on pole beans, a variety of lettuce and kale, tomatoes (a Czechoslovakian variety called Stupice), cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, radishes, chives, basil and thyme. We are hoping to fit all of this produce into eight 4 x 4 raised beds. The beds will be in my backyard, but Lana and I will share the gardening and the bounty. I calculated how much lumber, weed cloth, and soil we will need to begin, as well as the approximate cost. Dear Hubby has agreed to assemble the beds and he has refrained from commenting on whether it will be more expensive to grow our own greens or buy them at the farmer’s market. What I do know is that it will be a grand endeavor. And for this winter weary soul, the planning of it with a good friend has been a treat in and of itself.
I don’t attend church often, but today is Palm Sunday and my spirit was searching, so off I went. Sitting in my pew, I listened to a simple and thoughtful homily. Father B. suggested that, in this week leading up to Easter, we reflect on one particular line of the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our daily bread. He proposed that we reflect on this line each day and consider that our daily bread or that which sustains us might be something small and different each day – a moment of quiet, a call from a friend, or some small token. Contemplating this idea, I see that my daily bread came to me this past week in the form of a friendship that may have been unlikely a few decades ago, the conception of a garden and the bounty that will nourish us, and hope for the spring.