I can remember my favorite park slide from my younger years as a wide eyed, scrappy girl growing up in New York. It held for me both the promise of free-form, wiggly fingered exhilaration, like that of a bird, swooping and plunging below water to catch a fish... and a generous dose of pure terror, as in, you just may die when you reach the bottom. I loved it! Chances were good that I would lose a layer or two of skin off the back of my legs on the way down the hot metallic monster........ a small price to pay, I thought, for really living. All the life force in me rushed to the very surface of my skin in those few wild moments of descent. Sometimes my ears would flush with blood to the point where, just for the moment, I could hear nothing else but my own pulse beating in my head. I'd leap off the death slide and race to the shrubs nearby to watch the bees tap dance across a flower top, or I'd press my face into the blissful perfumes rising up to swirl all around and through my head. I'd find a broken stick and use it as a shovel to inspect the layers of dirt, grass and life beneath my feet. It seemed all the world was mine.... there was no do-not-cross sign anywhere on the horizon. I could breathe.
Lately I don't see that same wild exploration or dirt covered abandon out on the playground.
Over the years I've watched the average child's world change little by little. At the playgrounds the slides turned to plastic, then shortened. Even the earth below the slide went from wood chips or sand to a weird rubber nugget pool of mildly bouncy smelliness. The plastic structures slowly became bigger, squishier and more bubble like with numbers, letters and other "educational" doohickeys molded into them. There were no more zip lines, no well oiled spinney things and no rope climbing nets....... no pickable flower bed along the edge, no place to make filthy amazing dirt pies and sometimes..... no trees. Kind of sterile. Kind of ....... boring. I'd head indoors too if I were a kid these days. And most modern kids have!
While inside, anyone of us, whether child or adult, has a multitude of technologies at our disposal. We can plug into our favorite electronic nanny and zone out over a super sized bag of anything. It's safe with a capital S. It's ... clean. Right?
Wait........... WHAT HAPPENED?!! Who stole all the mud pies? Since when is safe and clean more important than broadening and alive? What happened to exploring natural curiosity and making layered connections? Are convenience and germaphobia really more precious to us than this?
I have a bunch of totally feasible theories and ideas as to how we all got here. The main thing is .... we are here as a culture.....the whole country....... locked indoors. Trapped in a beautiful suffocating box. Beautiful trappings. Even our food is sometimes trapped in a beautiful box. We already know these things through our own senses, experience and intuition. I won't bother with statistics for the moment.
Something about all this reminds me of the book, The Secret Garden, where the main character, a pale forgotten orphan named Mary Lennox, is sent to live in the child un-friendly manor of her deformed, widower uncle. Day after day, she is locked inside a beautiful tomb of a bedroom by the housekeeper. Through a series of quiet events she sneaks her way out of doors and discovers an abandoned, secret garden..... quite forgotten, like herself. While discussing boarding school with her uncle one evening she asks instead to stay at the manor and if she could have " a bit of earth" of her own... to plant things. She is granted the earth, and told she may take it from anywhere so long as it was not wanted and that she should not expect anything to grow from it. As she nurtures and tends to the garden, more than just flowers begin to bloom and open up. Her world, relationships, her heart and mind heals. She states that before she got into the garden even her hair was scrawny. She changes her world.
So many people I know are without a bit of earth to call their own. They long for a connection to the outdoor world.... to bath in the air, the light, music and aromas of the splendid, limitless complex life web. To feel things between fingers and toes and to feel things in their deeper nature. So when my daughter, Eden asked if she could have some seed packets and a place just for herself to plant them in.... I responded with a great big YES! I share with you now just one of the escape doors we've found to sneak out of the manor and back into the garden.
Yes, it's Eden that started it all. Young girls have such wonderful, free spirited ideas! But before we knew it, everyone wanted to be let out of the great big indoor box and feel the breeze on their face in their very own al fresco sanctuary. So we found some scrap wood by the garage and each child went about painting a sign for themselves so they could claim some land as their own.
We enjoyed an afternoon of creative expression, kid style, as paint was spread, splattered, and brushed into one of a kind wooden signs. Kai requested paint in every color of the rainbow (above right ) for his sign to reflect all the joy ahead in his garden. I was a bit more hands on with little Julian's sign.... he made the big blue moon and splashy bits, then I gave it a border and worked out the lettering for him.
Before we knew it the signs were complete and ready to install.
"I claim this land in the name of Keoni!"
Keoni gets a few pointers on how to use power tools and he's off and away!
Digging about amongst the birds in the trees with the sun on your back is totally hypnotic. Keoni soaks in the peaceful surroundings as he begins to break ground in his own land.
Keoni's garden is starting to take off! Fig, strawberry, fern and passion fruit all twist and play in the evening light as they climb to meet the sky. I think that an okra plant sprouted there yesterday. The banana tree he planted a couple of weeks ago was entirely too delicious for a rotten little gopher to pass up. Plink! It's gone! From Keoni's corner of the world you can see the mountains in the distance, the front of the house, older brother Kai's space and younger sister Eden's beautiful garden. Above (right) is the sign design Eden finally decided on after a revision or two.
Eden has painted a rather lovely collection of earthen pots and garden rocks and gathered them all nicely in one little corner of her outdoor haven. She's planted a wild profusion of flowers, including this zinnia that just blossomed, pictured above right. She is a big believer in what I call seed magic and plants every seed she can get her hands on..... which is good since all modern soils need a real infusion of seed fertility so nature can start selecting for itself from a generous offering of biodiversity.
Eden loves spending time in the garden! When deciding where to plant her seeds she knew she wanted a spot that was close to the house so she could see it from the breakfast table and on her way to school. So that's where we put it. She's not the only one that visits it often. The chickens flock there most days since it is the location of one of their favorite dust baths. There have been bunnies, squirrels, an opossum, hummingbirds, butterflies, songbirds, lizards, beetles and bees.... and the occasional nibbled leaf. Eden has said all friendly animals are welcome there and she gladly shares all her, fruits, seeds and leaves with the wildlife. I think she deeply gets what makes a garden beautiful.
Kai edged his plot of land, laid out in the shape of a big Pac-Man, with a few wheel barrows full of medium sized stones he found on our site. For a while he entertained the idea of making a second adjoining garden bed in the shape of a ghost, linked by square stepping stones.
A fourteen year old can grow some really healthy strawberries ( above left ) if given the chance! Kai's garden has expanded to a second bed ( above right ) complete with a scrap wood tepee he made with Papa J to help train his newly planted raspberries. ( it's not, however, ghost shaped ). Kai is basically growing the world's greatest smoothie garden. Thimble berries, strawberries, stevia, watermelon, raspberries.... all right next to the passion fruit vine arbor.............. smart kid!
Julian aka "Jujubee", the youngest of our bunch, got an early start on his garden, planting a bio diverse array of veggie, fruit, flower and herb seeds over a weeks time with big sister, Eden, by his side.
Something new and interesting sprouts every day!
It's down the rabbit hole for Julian ....... for Julian's water hose that is, as he discovers a bunny burrow under a big rock in Jujubee Way. Juju has not only done all the planting of his little patch of earth, but he insists on doing the watering. It may be his favorite part of the day.
A three year old's eye view of some of the things he's grown in his own garden (above ). Some of his plantings are now taller than him. " They're getting so BIG ", he says as he digs and waters.
I watch my children in the garden and I think, "this is as it should be". Even when they are " making a mess" I relax because there is value in cleaning it up too.What impressions must all of these interactions leave on their minds? The interactions of seed, soil, sun, air, fungi, birds, rocks, tastes, seasons, shapes, sticks, bugs, colors, rhythms, fragrances, plays of light, textures and their own skin. It differs so greatly from the barrage of television and commercial images people ingest so fully these days. How might a thousand different garden images and sensory experiences inform their desire as opposed to a thousand different commercial images? I wonder...... and I watch.
I am sure of this.........I am sure that we protect what we love. And we cannot love what we do not ( or cannot ) connect with. It's time to let our children, and our own inner child, find the key and get back out into the garden again to scratch, explore, taste, discover and unfold. And maybe, just maybe make a gorgeous, muddy mess while they're at it!
Peace, love and good sweet dirt,