“Digging in the earth is holy work. Enjoy this wonderful book and give as a gift to like-minded friends and family members. Highly recommended.” — Rabbi J.L. Mirel, author of Stepping Stones to Jewish Spiritual Living
In this charming and elegant guide, Pacific Northwest gardener Andy Becker provides practical gardening tips coupled with spiritual insights to help your garden grow. Quotations from the Torah, the Midrash, and the Chasidic Masters blend seamlessly with the author’s own experienced observations about dealing with Weeds, Lawn Envy, Damn Wabbits, the bitterness of Horseradish, and the sweetness of Raspberry Jam. Gorgeously illustrated by University of Washington artist Abigail Drapkin, THE SPIRITUAL GARDENER is a gift with many seeds of joy & wisdom.
"With wry humor, earthy spirituality, and practical advice, lawyer and amateur gardener Becker tells the story of his own garden and entreats readers to plant, tend, harvest, and share their own soil in this fine debut. Explaining that he tries to live his life by the commandment of bal tashchit ("do not waste or destroy"), Becker explores different aspects of gardening and how they relate to his own spiritual thinking. He doles out tales of tending his garden, making peace with moles, slugs, and his neighbors who feed the rabbits he is determined to eject from their burrow under his garden. In an age when one can feel tethered to a phone and bombarded by information and news, Becker argues that tending to a garden allows for 'sanctified time.' For Becker, troweling, watering, mulching, and seeding provide time to relish life, and also present opportunities for him to muse about the value of humility, how to divide chores in a marriage, and the ethics of hunting, among other topics. In uncomplicated, clear prose, Becker pleasantly urges readers--even those with just a balcony--to make a space where their home can be 'infused with the Divine Presence.' Green-thumbed spiritual readers will relish Becker's welcoming memoir." — Publishers Weekly (BookLife)
Published by Tree of the Field Publishing in association with Fearless Literary • 124 pages, trade paperback with full-color illustrations • $16.95 • ISBN 978-1-7336698-0-1 • Available to the trade from Ingram
Read excerpts below
Andy Becker is a writer, gardener, and lifetime learner living in Gig Harbor, Washington with his wife Donna Fisher. Andy was a successful small-town attorney who specialized in representing the little guy against insurance companies for over 30 years. During his early years of gardening, he was often frustrated, beset by rocky soil, hills, and too many surrounding trees, slugs, and deer. Despite these challenges, Andy has never failed to grow flowers and vegetables every spring and summer. His current garden includes a greenhouse, eight raised beds, a 30-yard vegetable bed,and a 40-yard stretch of raspberry vines.
Abigail Drapkin is a fine artist originally from Midcoast Maine whose work focuses on human interactions with the natural world and the built environment through dream-like paintings, prints, and videos. Abigail holds an MFA in Painting + Drawing from the University of Washington and a BA in Studio Art and French from Brandeis University. She has exhibited in group shows and solo showcases in San Francisco, Seattle, and Singapore.
THE SPIRITUAL GARDENER
One way to tilt the pinball machine of any marriage is to frequently complain about your spouse — to your spouse. A much healthier strategy is self-censorship. At least once a day I recommend employing the Spanish imperative, “Cierra la boca!” (“Hush your mouth!” in English). This adage especially applies to annoying things for which your spouse is only indirectly responsible. Catalogs, for example.
Over a course of years, an ever increasing influx of catalogs flooded our mailbox and ended up all over the house. I found them on the kitchen counter, next to the sofa in the family room, on the bedstands, and within arm’s reach of the bathroom toilets. The inundation of catalogs started as a pre-Christmas phenomenon but morphed into a constant year- round barrage of slick, slippery little magazines with page after page of pictures of stuff and more stuff. As my lovely wife occasionally discovered, each time she bought a new thing from a catalog or merely shopped on the internet, the quantity of catalogs multiplied like fleas in a carpet on a hot day. She often expressed joy upon the arrival of her favorite catalogs, which I found grating.
I identified myself as a gardener, a man of the earth. I was philosophically opposed to the production and mailing of millions of pages of unwanted catalogs. The catalogs were anathema to me.
I also intuitively subscribed to the commandment of bal tashchit — do not waste or destroy. The commandment derives from Deuteronomy 20:19, proscribing the cutting down of trees during wartime. The learned sages and rabbis determined that if the Jews were prohibited from cutting down trees during extreme times of war, then it was even more sinful to kill trees or waste other valuable resources during times of peace.
Thus, the prohibition against waste was clear, and catalogs were a clear example of environmental destruction. In our mailbox we also often found repetitive solicitations for credit cards, houses for sale in the neighborhood, grocery store cou-pons, cars, financial planning, and politicians running for the latest election. If this wasn’t waste, what was? As far as I was concerned, the violations of bal tashchit multiplied daily with the mail.
But people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks. I soon realized that my own love of gardening involved unintended waste....
My first memory of a rabbit is Bugs Bunny. As kids we spent hours in front of the black and white T.V. watching Warner Brothers cartoons. Bugs was long and skinny and gray. I am not sure I liked his smart-aleck persona. The arrogance of Bugs Bunny rubbed me the wrong way.
My next memory of a rabbit is as fuzzy as rabbit fur. Maybe I saw some bunnies at a petting zoo or at a pet store. Those rabbits were puffy, snow white like a cotton ball. They did not seem real. They looked so soft. My brother and I each had our own rabbit’s foot, but I think that they were synthetic; at least I never related them to an actual rabbit.
Half my life passed without thinking much about rabbits.
After we moved into our current residence, I developed strong feelings about rabbits. My gardening took off. After years of battling shade and poor soil, rocky terrain, and hills, I was finally living somewhere with great sun exposure, soil that drained well, and a flat yard. I could garden to my heart’s content under favorable conditions. My passion for gardening exploded. Each year was better than the last.
After a few years of gardening bliss, my family and I started to notice rabbits in our neighborhood. We usually saw them at night, often frozen in their tracks by the car’s headlights as I drove into our driveway. During the day they would likewise freeze when they saw us on foot and then scamper across the yard in fright, ducking under the fence. These rabbits were brown and mangy looking, but at first we delighted in seeing them, much like when we saw a deer on the side of the road. Spotting an occasional rabbit in the neighborhood or in our own yard was fun.
That was before the population explosion. After just one summer, the neighborhood’s rabbit population boomed. Something was chewing and destroying my spinach, carrot tops, onion tops, lettuce, and kale. It was, in the immortal words of the great Elmer Fudd, “the damn wabbits!” You name it, and the damn wabbits were out there eating it.
It was an epidemic. After all that weeding, shoveling, hand tilling, leveling and raking, seeding, more weeding, and watering, my labors were for naught. The damn wabbits came at night like starving, nose twitching, nervous bandits, seemingly intent on destroying the garden. In response, soon I became like a psychopathic Mr. McGregor with blood lust for every hop-a-long....
Although gardening is work, the rewards are numerous. A raised bed of dirt in March becomes a bonanza of spinach, radishes, lettuce, and broccoli by May. The vegetables please the eye with their contrasting colors and shapes. Growing one’s own organic food that tastes great, picked timely, right at home, leads to a happy excitement. As one’s gardening skills improve from trial and error, year to year, the produce improves in size and quality. As the garden flourishes, one’s spirits lift. The garden has a calming quality, cooling us naturally from over-stimulated lives. On a Sunday morning, as the birds chirp away, much weeding, seeding, harvesting and watering can be accomplished in a short period of time. Why addict oneself to images on a rectangular electronic screen when one can smell the soil and breathe in the weather? Why not ground oneself in the reality of the earth’s abundance?
“Home Sweet Home” means a place of serenity and relaxation where one feels most comfortable. A home with a garden is a happier, healthier, and friendlier home. The home garden is the antithesis of conflict and violence found elsewhere; it is a reservoir of peace. A home garden projects an inner comfort where one dwells, an actual warmth that can be found within the gardener. The lusher the garden, the more respectful all those who pass by or enter.
I do not know anyone who experienced depression picking the first strawberry of the year. I encourage everyone to take advantage of their yards and start planting. We can fill the countryside, the suburbs, and the inner cities with garden plots. Something will usually grow somewhere. Look at the Douro Valley in Portugal, a World Heritage Site for wine vineyards, where the hillsides are steep, water is scarce, and the ground is terribly rocky. Grapes have been grown there for generations and turned into exceptional wines.
If we planted much of our vacant land, neighbors would encounter each other outside. They would inevitably meet and talk to one another. Co-workers would bring their excess zucchinis, tomatoes, and cucumbers to the job site or office for everyone to share.
Just by gardening, we could straighten out some of the distortions in the world. If humankind wants to stop its descent into unending conflict, decadence and immorality, the garden path can help us reverse course and create a harvest of beauty, abundance, and health....
© Copyright 2019 Andrew Becker
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