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Carl Wernicke: Mindfulness Is Tending A Garden



   People do what they do for many reasons. I have always admired those who can figure out ahead of time why they should do something, but I have always had to develop understanding of things as I go. Which makes it important to not think that I know about something before I do, which, fortunately for me has never been a real problem. There always seems to be plenty of people willing to explain to me how much I don’t know.

   After years of gardening, I have begun to figure out that, other than the good fresh food, the primary benefit might be how it makes you pay attention to the world around us. Not just weather, more than that. Simply put you can say it is the natural world, and our place in it.


   Monday morning I arose before dawn to hear a steady rain on our home’s metal roof. This came as a surprise, which told me that I had not been paying attention in recent days. The sky had grown cloudy, and the barometer was pointing to rain the day before, but for some reason I found myself wondering why all this was happening when I didn’t expect it to rain. I can only say that I didn’t expect it to rain because I missed these abundant clues. Sure, I could have checked my weather app, but while I love my iPad, I don’t want to be too tied to it. Basically it lets us be lazy, and depend on what other people know. Maybe I didn’t expect it to rain because I depended on the fact that if it were going to rain, the Internet would have told me. 


  So in the dark of the morning I was surprised to hear the rain pattering the roof. I have always enjoyed the sound of rain, especially on a metal roof. But what was more comforting was the thought that it was just what the garden needed. The greens and garlic, the fava beans and snow peas, the chard and kale and lettuce have all taken off in the last couple of weeks under the bright winter sun and mild temperatures. The rain completed the picture.


   My wife and I have come to find winter the best time to garden in Northwest Florida. Hardly any insects, few weeds, low humidity and generally mild temperatures make summer gardening seem like work in comparison. 


   Still, there are challenges. Without really understanding what we are doing, we planted two Bradford pears in the garden, thinking they might give us shade on brutally hot summer days. And they do. They also shower the garden in the fall with thousands of tiny pears that rot and ferment on the ground, and then squish under foot. This draws swarms of flies and yellow jackets to feast on the mush.


   Normally, I’m wary around yellow jackets. You can work right around your average wasp, which will ignore you as it patiently inspects your plants for prey. Yellow jackets, though, have a bad reputation and a hair trigger; and where a lone wasp might sting you, if one yellow jacket gets mad at you, they all do.


   Yet, the yellow jackets all but ignored us as they gorged on the sticky pulp. Maybe they just thought it was too nice of a day, and too pretty a garden, to get all mad about stuff.


   I could not have agreed more.