Monday, June 30, 2014

Teaching Green

Growing up, dirt was under my nails, on my hands and knees and usually behind my ears (for the potatoes to grow). In the summer, I woke every week day to my Grandma and Grandpa in the garden, their car in the driveway with the trunk open full of hoes and rakes for the garden, and always a couple canes poles for when we needed a break in the shade by the pond to fish. I always raced out of bed, grabbed a running breakfast and joined them for hours of learning and quality time. My grandpa carried a salt shaker in his pocket in the summer, to garnish the vegetables he picked straight from the garden to snack on. He made eating a fresh tomato look so perfect... I found it much less appetizing until only recently, now enjoying the Mediterranean as an adult with changed taste buds.

We stopped along country roads in the summer to pick blackberries, dewberries and his special hidden grove of sweet tiny plums, pears and apples, not to mention the many apples, grapes, raspberries and cherries in our own farm yard. While money was not of abundance, we were NEVER hungry, growing most of our own food or raising animals for eating. In the springtime we hunted wild mushrooms and caught fish and turtles.  In the summer, we hunted squirrels and fished for hours for bluegill by day or catfish by night. Fall brought bird hunting season, with our dogs and family coming to make a day of it. In the winter, we trapped furs for extra money. We learned early in life how to provide for ourselves and live from the wonderful and fertile land surrounding us. Loving animals, baby raccoons, squirrels and all the farm animals were instilled in us from our first breathes. While we also relied on animals for food, we were taught love and respect as well. We never took more than we needed and loved and cared for each animal until it was time for them to feed us. Learning to turn emotions on and off was hard, but necessary, though we also had special pets who lived to ripe old age.

When Chris got offered the Foreign Service job now nearly 5 years ago, Ceiba was very small. Yet even then, the thought of her not enjoying the upbringing I had been afforded made me sad. I wanted our children to run barefoot in the grass, skipping over cow pies and jumping streams, swimming in muddy ponds and fishing for hours, seeing babies chicks hatch and calves be born, using a dip net better than a tennis racket and loving their childhood. I wanted to be the one to teach them those things.

So though the farm I was raised and those who raised me are gone, though we don't live in a cornfield or have a creek in our backyard, we have improvised. While in Bangladesh, though we were in a flat with not a blade of grass, we gardened on the roof and enjoyed daily trips to pick vegetables or papayas, herbs and chili peppers and cut fresh flowers. Giant flying fox bats would dip by the roof at night, dwarfing even more the tiny bats and hawks who hung out nearby. Mangos next door tempted us all summer. And trips to the villages offered the chance to see the amazing citrus, pomelos and mangoes in abundance outside of Dhaka.

 Now in Malta, we have tended the tiny garden of flowers and select herbs/vegetables. The girls have a resident locust in the backyard and the front garden, who they pet every day. We love our rolly pollies and to watch the bats fly over the pool at night. We've added a tiny bowl water garden in the shady center garden, enjoying the goldfish who waddly swim around inside. 

We visit our neighbor's farm down around corner, a maze of narrow streets, enjoying the chance to pick peaches and nectarines, squash and tomatoes and gaze at the glistening blue Mediterranean Sea below. He always meets us with a smile and carries the girls through the "itchies" (weeds) or lifts them to pick the high fruit. I can not explain how warmed I am by our friend's generosity and even more by the luxury to show them traditions I feared we might not have the opportunity to enjoy. Two of our great neighbors are names Freddie... a coincidence maybe, but makes me feel my father's presence too.

We've also had the great opportunity to visit other local farms, meeting wonderful people!

Gardening is such a large part of me, it has been my joy and the remedy to cure sorrows over and over. It brings me such satisfaction from growing life and offers me peace like few things in this world. Teaching this to the girls is priceless.


  1. Beautiful Denise! We are overdue for another Skype. xo

  2. Love this! I didn't have the kind of "earthy" childhood you did -- Mom was raised running around on the family farms, but was in love with "convenience foods" as soon as she could afford them and raised us on them -- but I hope I can bring the boys up to love the earth. We have just acquired a frame for our own box "Kinder"-garden and are excited to learn how and what to grow! Love how much you teach those sweet girls.