Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Return It Better Than You Found It

Over the last year, I have dug gardens in areas of new construction and old established neighborhoods. In both these places I have learned and relearned an important lesson, burying something doesn’t make it disappear. It’s still there, and thirty years later those cement chunks that you intentionally buried five inches below the surface (grr) or those pesky plant labels that blew away in the wind will still be there to bother some other gardener.
I have found all sorts of things in the ground in which I planned to grow my food. The afore mentioned cement chunks and plastic plant tags have presented themselves in great abundance, but I have also found bottle caps, sardine cans, random chunks of plastic and packaging, a horseshoe and my most recent favorite, an old rusty razor blade (good thing I wear gloves). While finding these things buried in my yard has given rise to more than a little frustration inside this otherwise mild mannered gardener, they have also served as a great reminder to me of another lesson I have learned, the ground I’m working isn’t really mine.

In saying this, I’m not trying to espouse some political view on land ownership but simply stating the truth that this land will not be mine forever. Eventually, someday, I will be gone and someone else will take up stewardship of my little plot, and when that happens they will inherit everything I have ever done here. Any short cuts I ever made on house repairs or other building projects will be theirs. Any time I tried to save a few bucks by not disposing of waste properly will be theirs. Or any time I was careless and didn’t make sure all the bits of garbage where picked up when I was done with a project, those will also be theirs.

I find the idea that I am passing on something, instead of just creating a little oasis for myself, adds a new level of thought to my gardening. It motivates me not only to be more careful with my own behavior, but to make sure I take the time to clean up the carelessness of previous owners. As I reset boards in the garden, lay pavers or dig holes for new plants (cleaning up the soil as I go), I like to think about how someday another young gardener will be digging in that same dirt, and her work will be a little easier because I passed on the land a little better than I found it.

What has gardening taught you?


Helen said...

This is so beautiful, and one of the many reason why you're so awesome.
(It reminds me of something by George Bernard Shaw from Man and Superman. I'll look it up and send it to you.)

Kay said...

I've been thinking about this comment ever since I saw the title of the post but just haven't gotten around to making it. I didn't learn many life lessons from my dad, but the one I did learn was: "when you borrow something, return it in better condition that it was when you took it, and if it uses gas, return it with a fuller gas tank that it had when you took it." It is surprising how few people seem to follow that good advice.
Thanks, Dad.