Sowing hope 37


“I’m up and down,” I told my Irish friend when she asked how I was doing.

She reached cross the pond just to check in, so I shared:

“The death toll here is beyond comprehension, and it colors everything I think about and do. We’re hardcore quarantined at home while my fellow citizens go back to life as usual, many ignoring sensible guidance from the government entities that still give a crap about the general welfare.”

I generally don’t share these kinds of sentiments aloud. I’m disciplining myself to focus on this day and what I can do be a voice of compassion and clarity. The rest — the overwhelming grief, the appalling lack of concern, the uncertainty about the future — is too big, too complex, too bleak to dwell on. I know I’m not alone in feeling this, but it has to come out sometime and with our safest people.

Then, I told her, “But I put in a garden this year.”

And perhaps because the world is more full than usual of things I can’t control, this little backyard plot has become a green and growing lifeline.

In late January, while it poured freezing rain outside, I pored over seed catalogs with visions of fresh produce. While the coronavirus began to spread, I raised sprouts indoors, gradually introducing them to the warm sunshine of spring. Then, with the power drill I bought myself years ago, I connected the fresh, pine boards, filling the beds with load after backbreaking wheelbarrow full of garden dirt.

Now, nearly every day, there are small miracles. A bean seed rises from the soil of its own will. The first blossoms peek out from under sheltering leaves. The peas curl their eager tendrils around the trellis I made with last winter’s branches, determined to climb.

It’s not a perfect effort. The padrón pepper seeds stubbornly refused to germinate. All but one potato rotted in the rain. When I lamented accidentally killing all my wiggler worms, a farming friend said, “Congratulations, now you’re a real farmer!” While I can’t change the failures, I can learn from them.

At first this garden was meant to merely reduce the number of trips to the grocery store, but it’s giving me so much more. It is slowing me down in the best possible ways. Not one seed will sprout at my urging, nor grow faster just because I check it six thousand times a day. No, this 6×10 plot is showing me how to take life as it comes, humbly, one day at a time.

And what a necessary lesson that is right now. Take life as it comes. For it does, no matter how I scheme or lament.

This afternoon, as I tucked the last squash seeds into their warm, damp bed, a pale yellow butterfly flittered around, stopping for a drink. Then I saw two bright red ladybugs racing across the pea shoots. And the surprise warmed me: this garden is more than a food source. I’ve created a sanctuary for many souls, including my own.

“A garden is an act of faith,” my Irish friend said.

We plant not in light, but in dark soil, with no assurance of success. We plant anyway–tomatoes or a kind word–hopeful for the fruit it might bear. Gardening, like life, is an act of faith. Today, may we pause to notice what calls to us, and act upon it with courage, even when the outcome is uncertain. Whether from a catalog or from our heart’s longing, most seeds will grow if tended with care and, in time, nourish more than we can imagine.


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37 thoughts on “Sowing hope

  • KATHLEEN GRAMSGIBBS

    “the appalling lack of concern,”
    Yes, this is what frightens me and worries me. That so many have so little empathy. And they are not ashamed. They are proud of it. Heartbreaking.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Yes. It is heartbreaking and incomprehensible, both.

      For balance, I find it helps me to remember that people do millions more kind and helpful things every day that do not make the headlines.

  • tj beal

    yes yes yes…. with the pandemic, if we are not frontline workers, we are called upon to stop…look and listen right now…. be present in other words. when we attune to the natural world, we see how much it has to say (and yet never talks back!)–and it can bring us to our senses. There was a PBS Newshour segment on friday about gardening and how recidivism in Rikers is usually 60% but if in their gardening program, it drops to 10%….yes re-align with the miracle of growing..and of the large mysteries of nature all around us.

  • Darlene Norwood

    My garden is a haphazard thing made up of last year’s strawberry, daisy and kale survivors and a few leafy edibles purchased in tiny pots from our Bi-mart parking lot. It is nowhere near the abundant and well-tended garden I envisioned for 2020. Insects immediately attacked the newly planted Napa cabbage, nibbling the young leaves into green lace. The tiny green bean plants struggle to stay upright until they can climb the trellis. The daisies are in bloom while the leaves seem stalled and uncertain. My plants have much to overcome with me as a less than care-free gardener this year. Not one plant has yet lost its struggle though. There are new undamaged leaves on the cabbage. The thick kale stalks from last year are done with flowering and new leaves have appeared near their base. The strawberries blossomed this week. Life does its darnedest to make the best of what its got.

  • Donna Maurillo

    I’m also working on a garden. But I do this every year. It’s the reason I have a house with a sunny yard. By August or September, I’m brimming with tomatoes and beans and potatoes and carrots. And blackberries because they grow wild.

  • E MacNabb

    Thank you for this letter of hope. You expressed many of my own emotions. Holding all good thoughts for you and your family.

  • Debra Bures

    I’ve planted a garden for many years. This year, however, this pandemic year, I feel like my intent is different. This year, I not only plant food for my husband and me, but for my neighbors, some of whom I do not know. This year I plant food for my spirit, and for my faith in our humanity. This year, I plant hope.

  • ABIGAIL D SAYEN

    Jennifer, Thank you for these beautiful words..this IS why,I too,plant a garden! The other day,as I looked out at my raised beds..the marigolds (to keep the bugs away-or so i am told!) bright colors make me smile..going out every morning to check and see ‘who’ has decided that today is the day they have decided to peak their ‘heads’ out of the soil…THIS is my peaceful place.
    Thank you again for all you have done, AND still do, to help us thru this chaotic and unsettled time. Abby Sayen

  • Sally Ouweneel

    Thanks well written. I hope this country will come back. I do not understand people who will not wear their masks or listen to our people who are trying to keep them safe. You take care.

  • Gail Tauber

    Lots of folks gardening. Same here. Small terrace patch, in middle of Manhattan. Trying to help the bees… and other. Audrey Hepburns’s famous quote is: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

    One day at a time, one small step. Up and down. All we can do really. Thank you. It’s always good to know we are not alone.

  • Annie Odette

    Jennifer,

    Gardening is such a deep and warm way to be. I don’t vegetable garden, way too many deer, but do the flowers and the bulbs. And I watch the Dutch Irises, where about 14 were planted and only 7 have come up so far…and the Caladium tubers, some rotted and others might come up, so I bought some to plant.

    I’m trying not to be so angry, but it’s hard, so I go and look at my plants as they grow.
    hugs
    Annie Odette

  • Kat Connelly

    Thank you! Thank you so much for all that you do. You are a shining light in this time of darkness. You give me hope!

    • Carol Frommelt

      Thank you for being the wonderful person you are that continues to keep hope and inspiration in so many others. I have discovered that I have to disconnect from the news for a day or two and then check back. I’m trying to encourage others to wear masks and I wear a mask everyday even though it’s hot and uncomfortable when I work. Thank you for your continued hard work keeping me informed and making it easy for me 2 take action. You are an amazing person thank you so muchOP

  • Marsha

    This is lovely. It reminded me of a quote that appeared on The Obama Foundation newsletter yesterday: “Courage can be contagious and Hope can take on a life of its own.” Thank you for your inspiring words.

  • Laurel

    Thank you for the reminder that we do not always see the fruits of our words and our work immediately. But the intentional act of putting goodness out there through acts, words, or thoughts, is part of the process of growing and healing. I share your worries and frustrations about our situation in the world, and particularly the less than rational actions of many in the US. But your reminder that your garden continues to grow and thrive in spite of the chewed leaves, dead worms, and rotted potatoes is a reminder that the collective “we” can overcome the selfish individuals among us even while we grieve the losses. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Valentina Sparkman

    Thank you for putting so eloquently what I feel and think or have thought these days. I work at a bank branch that is located inside a grocery store so I have seen my fellow humans in all their glory during this pandemic. I recently won an argument with my bosses for my health which has resulting in all customers have to wear a mask to be serviced in anyway. I bought a shield 2 months ago that just arrived today. But my solace is my little greenhouse and the seeds I’ve sowed as well as the plants I bought when the seeds didn’t grow fast enough for me. When I am in my green house I forget this world. When I see the 3 new baby Robin birds peeking out of the nest next to my back door (which I no longer use in honor of their hard working momma), life truly does go on and it is wonderous!

  • Warren Clark, D.Min

    Jen, we moved into a new home in early March, just before the CIVID-19 shut down. The good people from whom we bought our home had two well used and ready garden plots. What a gift! It had been years since I really gardened. Like you, Jen, I keep going out to see how the garden grows… and because this is Florida we’ve already harvested a fine mess of green beans and lots of lettuce and arugula. I have carefully raised corn stalks up by pressing small mounds of dirt at the base of the stalks after they were hammered down by hard rains. On dry hot May days once the sun’s gone down, I switch the hose attachment to mister, and gently refresh the gardens. Caring for the gardens is a physical act; repairing and restoring the effects of the harsh assaults of climate.
    I write, with input from several groups and activists, Indivisible St. Johns Advocacy “Topics and Talking Points” twice a month. Your blog helped me realize this is part of caring for the “Garden of the Common Good” in several N.E. Florida counties. It nourishes our life energy, and focuses our intention to flourish in the midst of the public health and political pandemics.
    Jen, frequently, I replant sprouts from the Americans of Conscience Checklist into our advocacy “Topics and Talking Points”. Thank you and your team for re-nourishing our efforts here in St. Augustine, and across the United States.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      I’m so touched by your comment on so many levels, Warren. Thank you for sharing and for planting seeds of hope for the future. I’m glad we’re gardening together.

  • James Alley

    Thanks. I needed that.
    Thanks also for all the work you have done to remind us that we do something to make a difference in the world.
    And even gardens are a statement of hope. Along with children, thank-yous, and gestures of random (and not so random) kindness.
    God bless and keep you

  • Marjorie Williams

    This is a lovely post. Beautifully detailed, uplifting, and honest. I’ve felt many of these sentiments in regard to my garden too, especially this year. Thank you for helping to articulate the reasons.

  • Liz @ spades, spatulas, and spoons

    I don’t know how I missed this post but I do agree with you. The garden had been my solace during this difficult time. We are also appalled by the lack of compassion demonstrated by some people although thankfully it has not been so obvious here in CA. Be well. Loved this post, thank you.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Sometimes we find what we need to read at the perfect moment, no matter when the publish date was. 🙂 So glad you’re finding solace, Liz. Be well!

  • Julie

    You may never know how very much I needed your words today. Especially your final paragraph. I am a resilient, hopeful sort in nearly all things. It’s been difficult recently. But the reminder of the potential richness of dark soil…That resurrected a little bit of my soul. Thank you, Jen.