Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Listening to the Garden

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
                                             --T. S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"

I sent my students outside today with their notebooks and pens. I too often find them checking their smart phones for texts or hear them coming into class, their music blaring from their earphones, announcing their arrival well before they pass through the doorway. So many of them seem on edge, desperate for any kind of distraction at every second. In response to my asking, "What would happen if you turned off your phone for 40 minutes?" some have replied that they would likely have 30 increasingly insistent text messages from their mothers demanding that they account for their whereabouts and lack of immediate response. It all seems like a life of not-so-quiet desperation. They miss things, even though they believe that their technology keeps them completely informed.

So I sent them outside. Their instructions were to find a place to sit and observe the details of their surroundings, to record what they experienced using a thesis that I supplied for them. The results were rather surprising. One student, upon returning to the classroom, said, "I didn't even know there were birds on campus." Several remarked on the very fine smell of freshly-cut grass. One of my favorite responses was from a student who heard the repetitive thwack of flip-flops smacking against the feet of a student hurrying into the building. Most agreed that they had discovered things they never noticed in their time on campus.

I've been terribly busy lately, the kind of busy that makes the days melt into one another until I can barely recall any part of my schedule, past or future. So when I came home today, I gave myself the same assignment. I went outside and sat in the vegetable garden. I didn't pull weeds or consider where the next planter bed should go. I just sat down. I heard the quiet hiss of the water flowing from the drip irrigation. I admired the widely varied leaf forms of radishes and carrots, of beets and peas and lettuce. I felt the hot, dusty, dry clay beneath my hands as I leaned against a planter bed. I heard the neighbor working in his barn, a shuffling noise in the distance. In short, I wasted time, and it was delicious.

The beet leaves are absolutely stunning

Peas, radishes, carrots, and beets, all growing together
in harmony

The first small fruits of our labor,
'French Breakfast' radishes


  1. I love your photography - I never looked that close at the beet leaves this time of the year! You have inspired me to go in my garden with nothing in hand and to sit and just take it all in. Thank you for doing that!

    1. That is especially flattering praise, Bren, because I have always admired your photography. Enjoy that quiet time in the garden.