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AVANT-GARDENING: CREATIVE ORGANIC GARDENING

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"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Insights"

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Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Insights - Back Issues 2003

Garlic in our NM garden at Giannangelo Farms Southwest


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December 2003
Stretching Out


Having grown garlic for years, it is always fun to walk out to the garden and watch for the first shoots, barely peeking up through the brown winter mulch. It becomes doubly fun when you catch yourself making an immediate-symbol-recognition. My eye knows that color and shape carries its implied intent: to become a bulb of garlic. That garlic sprout we recognize, even at first tip, also carries an immediate-symbol-association: Garlic! I think of stir fry’s with big chunks, half cloves or whole, still firm with a nip more than a bite. Gardeners have experienced eyes.

We know weeds from seed sprouts (most of the time). We recognize the symbol of our intent to produce a carrot, a pepper, or a radish. We recognize the shape, and the color: those cute, almost-heart-shaped radish leaves that push back the soil exposing themselves to the sun, or the feathery fern-like whispers of carrot leaves coming up in bunches (we always seem to over-seed the carrots). Seeing them makes me think of carrot salad with lots of raisins. The radishes bring to mind a good friend who loves to crunch them with salt.

When a seed breaks the ground, it is acting in response to a continuation of material facts and needs that have remained intact through the ages - truths that have been proven. Gardeners are a lot like seed sprouts. We also are symbols of intent and association, and have existed, along with the plants, to provide a link to the soil and our ancestry. Often when talking with those who don’t garden, they will mention a parent’s or grandparent’s garden that they remember.

Washing off a bunch of Cherry Belle Radishes with their long white roots dangling below the sparkling red, provides the eye with a beauty that gives real satisfaction in the knowing that it was a gardener’s hand that helped in their creation. But the best part of planting, nurturing, and harvesting, is the sharing. By breaking radish with someone, we have fulfilled our intent.

Our first snow is on the ground, accompanied by strong winds and dropping temperatures. All the symbols have arrived at once, making it easy to recognize winter. Just the day before, the sun had been shining, and the temperature was still high enough to go without a coat for a short time. Now, warm shirts and heavier coats are needed against the weather’s intent: from Latin: intent – an aim, purpose, lit. a stretching out. Winter has an aim and purpose, and will be stretching out until spring arrives.

A great thing about knowing other gardeners is that, when your garden is frozen out, a garden in a more protected area may still be producing. Fortunately, we have some gardening friends who, by covering their remaining crops with gunny sacks each night before the temperature drops, have been able to keep lettuce and greens enough to bring a wonderful salad for dinner. Our meal helped them to fulfill an intent: that of sharing and fellowship, a culmination of effort that began months ago, stretching out unbroken until now, arriving on our plates as the snow covered the ground outside.

We eagerly await spring with those first green sprouts that bring a feeling of comfort in immediate-symbol-recognition, and another year of striving to express, by growing, truths, beauty, and shared goodness.

November 2003


A Preponderance of Chance


As another month passes, the morning temperatures are noticeably cooler when leaving the house in the morning, slipping down into the 20’s. Each plant having its tolerance level and shows the dead blackness when reached. The summer chores of planting and putting in have now been replaced with snipping off and pulling out, lessening the visible green and exposing more of the brown earth, not seen viewed last winter. Unfinished projects become more evident, now obvious without their distraction. A winter pace has been set, slower and more methodical than the lively planting jig, danced earlier in the season.

Everyone loves to be able to predict the first snow fall, and it doesn’t matter whether there are only a few visible flakes or a foot of snow deposited overnight. The point is, your prediction came true, and with it a certain begrudging admiration of all those to whom you made your prognostication. With this same élan we will begin thinking about next year’s garden, forecasting in our minds heavily laden plants, drooping with chilies, beans, tomatoes, and whatever our dreams of abundance bring forth.

One of our abundance dreams was fairly well-fulfilled by a great crop of Habanero chili peppers, bright orange, and filling the kitchen with their unique fragrance, spread out and drying on the wood cook stove – that has yet to be used this winter, yet is eager for its first fire. Our other wood stove, used for heating, was lit for the first time this season when the morning low was 15 degrees. Outside, wood is stacked in rick lines (1/3 of a chord each - 16”long wood stacked 4’high and 8’long) next to each other, forming a large block of wood easily covered with a tarp for the winter.

The carrots were dug this week, dried, cleaned, and put away in a cooler in the cellar. Onions and garlic fill large bowls in the kitchen, the rest in the cellar. Butternut squash are lined up on a rack in the kitchen awaiting the knife to expose their golden flesh: for us these have proven to be the best winter keeper. They also have the most edible meat, with only a small pocket of seeds in one end.

As the world fights to maintain physical boundaries, we can de-construct boundaries by establishing a cybertectonic coterie (from Coteré - an association of tenant farmers). At one time farm communities outnumbered towns and cities. These loosely grouped families had similar concerns and lived, no matter how hard they may have tried to prepare, with the preponderance of chance. There were certain events that could not be foreseen: early frosts, drought, floods, and infestations, to name a few. Farmers and gardeners do not have the luxury of firm defining boundaries; they change, moving in and out, here and there, shifting with the conditions of life that necessitate twisting and turning with each event until the harvest is in and stored, and only then can they view and assess their efforts against chance.

At the beginning of spring, we each devise a “story reality” within which we will create a plot and action for us to follow throughout the year. In the garden we try and define the script as best we can, filling in details and describing the trek of our growing year. We put great effort into this story, checking almanacs, weather reports, our own past records, seed catalogues, and anything else we think might help to keep our story as we have written it. And then there are our “lived stories”, within which we have actual experiences, participation, and intersections with the lived stories of others that help to define our mutual meaningful place in the universal story.

Recently at a fellow gardener’s house, we inspected their pepper crop that was strung into ristras, red and dried like crinkled fingers hung in the kitchen above the sink and around cabinets. As we oohed and aahed the crop, we acknowledged as to how we too had harvested a good crop. And so, we congratulated each other on the fact that we had both grown, despite the preponderance of chance.

October 2003


The Garden Obelisk


For us the garden has been over weeks now. Although others in the area continue to have greens and other tender produce, a week of hard frosts have put down the lettuce, peppers, eggplant, and squash. Still in the ground are carrots, onions, and beets. With weather in the high 80’s during the day, the feeling is that we should be looking back over our shoulder at how the garden is doing and why we aren’t watering. It’s as if there is a crop of memory that needs attention, only to disappear when the gate opens. The brown onions have been harvested, brought inside, eaten or stored. The red onions seem to take forever to fall over and die off, sealing the ends allowing a longer storage period.

It is easy to be lulled into a complacency of warmth, forgetting that the last load of wood needs to be stacked and those three standing dead trees still need to come down, be cut up and stacked, ready for the winter fire. The Chantenay carrots grow even larger with the late warm days adding to their girth. (We like these carrots for keeping over the winter because they contain more moisture and don’t become wibbly like the thinner ones. We cut off all the green and part of their tops, put them in a large cooler after letting them dry for a few days, and keep the lid ajar so moisture can escape, preventing rot. The cooler is in the basement where the temperature remains fairly constant throughout the winter.)

But we know that, in the not too distant future, the really hard, cold weather will be here and before the ground freezes hard we will need to remove and store what’s left in the ground, leaving only memories of last years crop mingling with the also invisible visions of next springs planting. If we wander out to the garden, we get caught in that in-between world that we know once existed and will exist again, yet now is only in evidence like the enigmatic “Gone To Croatan” left by the Roanoke colonists: stems and leaves and other debris that will soon be in the compost bin to be returned to the garden in another season. What we are left with is a condition that will be a “deliberate unseen” that grows clearer as we clean the remnants to avoid mold and hiding places for insects.

The Egyptian obelisk had an infinite point at the top which spread out and downward, ever widening to its base standing on the ground. On the four sides were messages that, when once read by the viewer on the ground, released a consciousness back up to that infinite entry point to be dispersed into an otherworld cosmos, there seeking an expression that one day would reappear, at the most appropriate moment, back in the reality from whence it began.

Each of the Egyptian hieroglyphs represented an image in its ideal form, producing in the viewer or reader, a combined “text/image complex”, much as the Renaissance emblem books were aligned in sequence to procure an edification in the reader. These groupings worked on multi-levels: the picture with the associated words; the readers then translating the word; and finally, the intent of the collection to form within the consciousness a representation of a chosen, desired awareness.

As winter closes in through the heat, fewer of the Veggie-glyphs remain to speak, and soon the garden that was all a babble in spring, will be silent. Those perfect peppers, growing next to and above the lettuce that shared a closeness with carrot tops gently bending over to provide some symbiotic shade, were read by all those who walked by and glancing, absorbed the emblematic green image/text.

Next spring, someone, somewhere, the time and place unknown to us, will form new gardens with hands seeding a personal translation of the reappearing energy that at its base, insists that we should grow.  


September 2003
Quotidian Dreams

My earliest unintentional memories are filled with the smells of fresh cut alfalfa, the dungy odors of pigs, cows, and the horses then used to pull wagons and the other machinery that were soon to become motorized and replaced. It was the consistent events that made impressions: the cloud of dust down the road of the truck coming to load the box of eggs or the can of milk left out at the edge of the front lawn by the turn-in driveway. There was a trust that was familiarly anonymous. The transaction took place without words or meeting; a periodic trust that was just a part of the everyday life.

Without conjuring, there were memories of meowing kittens in the hay barn, wet chicken feathers just dipped in scalding water, and the familiar smell of the chamber pot when the lid was lifted after taking it from under the bed late at night when a trip to the outhouse was too inconvenient.

Some impressions hold us and direct us, allowing movement only when that action is in harmony with those buried desires that we usually never even know exist, much less acknowledge. I suppose I was fortunate in that these influences were selective. We lived in Denver, just down from a company parking lot with another even larger one across the street.

My father worked for the Veterans Administration, so he was able to take off a month every year and we would visit my Grandmother’s Missouri farm. To make the most of time, we would leave at 3 or 4 in the morning, my younger brother and I dragged out in our pajamas and tucked in the back of an old Ford that had become a bed by putting two suitcases on the floor between the back seat and the upright of the front seat, with Dad’s old WWII sleeping bag and its years of musty basement smell, a light blanket, and our heads on our pillows.

It was always wondrous to awake and look out, trying to figure out how far we had come, and where we were. As the years passed, the same route was taken each time and waking became a transition into a then more familiar landscape that was recognized by passing landmarks already having been seen four, five, or six times. But no matter the distance yet to be traveled, the anticipation remained high, fueled by the past year of finding empty city lots full of weeds and standing or lying in the middle, getting away from the world of cars and houses built only feet apart.

It has been said that smell evokes the greatest and most vivid memories, and so it was when I would tear off handfuls of grass from our lawn and let it dry in the sun, and then lie down by the back porch stairs, pile the dried grass into a small hay stack and edge over slowly until my nose brought in the aroma, smelling like the new mown hay I experienced briefly each summer.

Recently, at our local art gallery, there was a “Salon” in association with the new showing entitled “Dreamscapes”. The subject for discussion was dreams. The afternoon’s conversation provided a panoplistic list of what dreams were thought to be. The only consensus was that we all do it, and somewhere, sometime, and somehow these mental constructs are etched into our lives, either passively or actively. Often the dream state is like a garden that we plant and ask for a return which we ourselves cannot produce.

Asking for the answer to a problem to be given in a dream is quite similar to planting a seed and asking for a vegetable. Each is beyond our control in its final result. We can help it along with water and nutrients, or pen and paper by bedside, but in the end we can only marvel over the redness of the radish, or the simplicity of the solution.

A tangled limb had knocked me out of the tree I was trimming, leaving me with broken ribs, collapsed lung, fractured pelvis, and ruptured spleen. It was during recovery that my wife sat up in bed one night and said … “a three concentric circle herb garden!” Suddenly the modest vegetable garden we already had became an adjunct to this “vision”. Daily it worked itself out, eventuating, building upon itself, and inspiring other gardens to be built.

A garden does not grow to fruition by simply planting it and then standing back waiting for a result. It is the continuing daily effort that brings forth the fruit. Often, a seed has been planted within us without us even knowing it, thinking about it, or even realizing its growing presence in our lives. But all the time it has been there, waiting patiently to sprout, and then with our help, spread its story of our connection to nature. It would seem that, sometimes, even without plans and directions, we can grow.



August 2003
A Simplex Concern

At 12:42 am, lightning and thunder awoke us and the winds that had been blowing hard through the windows when we went to bed had now turned into a gentle quiet breeze. We could hear the raindrops on the deck outside, beginning with a few and then increasing in number until the sound of rain, the good, steady, not-too-much-at-once kind of rain, lulled us back to sleep. In the morning we could see the ground was dark and wet, not just dimpled from a brief few drops.

New footprints trailed us in the sand on the way to the garden. This was the first rain we had had this growing season. Everything looked fresh and glowing, renewed by the ionized water that also gave a scent of wet dirt and desert grasses. For the moment we reveled in the simple sights and smells of the garden. By mid-afternoon the sun had taken all traces of the moisture that had been given. At the end of the day, we (again) watered by hand the thirsty plants.

A friend from back east visited lately and told us about a project concerning the effect technology has had, and is having on people. She didn’t give any specifics as the study was not completed, but she did hint that some of the effects believed found were “not good”. These studies were not of a scientific, data gathering nature, but rather derived from think-tank sessions in informal settings: a search for boundaries to encompass what is contained in this new Information Age, spawned by the Technological Age. It is the struggle to predict a paradigm.

It is the gardener who still has one foot in the Agrarian Age who is able to layer the levels of progress and become the cohesive director of mankind’s march to discover what that long ago planted seed of humanity will become.

The Industrial Age broadened and diluted our earth connection by use of chemicals and machines, leaving fewer and fewer people with a direct link to the most human of all activities – growing in the soil.

Information determines behavior and provides a dominant and fundamental way of thinking over a period of time. If it proves successful, this cycle forms a paradigm. At present we are in the formative stages of what to do with the information that is so abundant.

After seeing charts and data about el ninos and la ninas, global warming, and our own first hand experience with this summer’s heat and drought, we decided on a course of action about our concern (from the Latin cernere - to separate, sift.) It isn’t derived from abstract causes of behavior or effects. Our most simplex concern is water, as important in the Agrarian Age as it is today in the emerging Information Age, yet often overlooked because of its fundamental nature – its too real, too solid, only a plastic bottle accessory of life, much as the food that is picked up at the grocery store is an adjunct to the days activities.

Our solution to this concern is to halve the garden. At present, we have not replanted the vegetables harvested and taken to market. Our method is simple (from the Latin simplus – literally one-fold).

By folding the garden in half we are saving half our water. This effects not only us, but our neighbors, who, although have wells at different levels, are all interconnected. Many of the plants, the perennials especially, will be brought into the gardens around our house. The strawbale wall will help prevent water loss from the wind and provide shade protection from the sun. Most of the beds will then be allowed to “return to nature”. There were many options available to help conserve water in the garden: high tech pellets that would absorb multiple times their weight in moisture (not approved for organic growing), reflective ground coverings, or shade cloths to reduce heat. But all involved an uptake in other energies that only deferred and delayed the real need for doing with less.

The Information Age paradigm will not be formed by sitting in rooms filled with discussion. It will be formed by self-organizing individuals that can make a prediction and provide a solution that relies on the actual basics of existence – first hand experience that has been derived from the garden.

From Agrarian to Informational we can provide a conterminous practicality that if successful, will form a paradigm for the future. We won’t talk it into being, we will grow it.



July 2003
Vital Vicissitudes
“Building a Gateway”

Even blessings require an exactitude. The warm weather and no late frosts have put the garden and the opening of the Farmers Market a month ahead of schedule. The mornings have been cool, even chilly, (twenty six degrees one morning before sunrise), but readily warming (in the high eighties) as the sun tops the mesas and begins its daily ascent. In the afternoon, hot dry winds blow across the raised beds, pulling the moisture out through the mulch and into the air. Frost tender plants that last year would have just now been set out, already have fruit and blossoms. Being gardeners, we always try to push the envelope of earliness, this year the earliest by far.

Every day ends the same; as the bright sun lowers to the western horizon, we enter the garden to water. We have not had any rain to speak of in 90 days. At times the clouds gather and distant rumbling brings hope, but the brief storms pass us by as they skirt along the base of the Zuni Mountains just to the north. In July, the afternoon monsoons will hopefully appear, bringing afternoon clouds and rain, cooling and watering the garden with the ion rich drops that make plant colors glow with new growth. Until that time arrives, there is nothing we can do but water each day, sparing on the spinach and heavy on the lettuce.

The Strawbale Workshop brought in people from all over New Mexico, some from Arizona, and one from Colorado. There were Navajos, Zunis, Hispanics, old and young (one in a stroller), students, and assorted locals. Our friend and co-presenter, Preston “of the Mojave” Bell, provided a wealth of knowledge, tools, experience, and a ready smile.

The project for the workshop was to build an entrance wall on each side of the driveway, and two walls of a small room with a framed window on each side. The rubble filled foundations had already been poured, so when the “book work” was over, the stacking of the bales, cutting custom sized bales, and wiring the bales began. No one really knew what to expect, but all were charged with enthusiasm, and the spirit of creating something thorough cooperation.

After lunch, eating in small groups, we used the time to become better acquainted, and then the work continued. As the bales were stacked, wire was applied, cement was put on, and a change from nothing began to take recognizable shape. Everyone had driven in, past the foundations that were near the ground showing only a few pieces of rebar sticking up. During those hours of the day, willingness became the watchword: “I’ll go get it,” and “Let me help with that,” were commonly heard.

By late afternoon the combination of physical labor, long distances to drive home, and a consensus of knowing that we had done what we could, ended the workshop. After hugs, handshakes, exchanging addresses, business cards, and phone numbers, everyone went to their cars and drove out on the same road as they had come, only this time they left through an entry way they had helped to build, and were now going back to their pueblos, back to the reservation, back to the city, back to their community where they would give of their experiences to help others.

The fin de scile of the 20th century came and went with no seeing the “end of the world as we know it” (Y2K), no returning Messiahs, no global realizations of world peace through Harmonic Convergences of people or planets aligning. That tertium quid of expectation remains sought after, expected, called upon, given up on.

There are vicissitudes that will come surely as the morning sun; although some will try and force their arrival with political ballots or bullets. Others, numbed by money, media, and megabytes don’t care. Meanwhile our garden needs to be watered until those afternoon clouds build, darken, and give us that much needed rain.

Gateways show a port of entry into possibilities where other factors are applied, and opportunities for change can sprout when given the needed nutrients.

As we head toward a greater global cooperation, the fact remains that we have to go through those gateways and water until that time when those vital vicissitudes sprout and we can truly begin to grow.



June 2003
“Praxis Relaxes”

At an altitude of 7300 feet, summer always arrives suddenly, like an unannounced visitor, leaving us scrambling to plant and transplant, pick up, straighten up, and generally make presentable the garden, greenhouse, and yard. Plants that seemed to be doing fine in their 4 inch pots only a couple of days ago now clamor to be relocated to new homes where their roots will be unconfined. They are eager to burst forth with new growth and their promise of bounty. All the plants that were grown inside the attached greenhouse have been taken to their “staging area” just outside the main garden next to the second greenhouse that provides a sheltering haven in the event of a suprise frost (which still could easily happen into June). Plants transplanted into the freshly tilled garden soil just seem to explode overnight, and toads rush into the ponds to mate.

Its not that we didn’t know this was going to happen, we had been planning for it since we closed down the garden last fall, its just that there is that unexpected moment - that chasm leap from potential to entelechy that, however prepared for, always catches us in mid-step, causing a stuttering re-adjustment in our daily routines. This is what we have been preparing for the last few months. It has been the when, the how many, and the how much that were the items of speculation. The preparation, it seems, is always more challenging than the application.

We also had good weather for our recent rockwork workshop - morning sun and late morning clouds, perfect. Native American high school students came from Pine Hill and Zuni, a Navajo artist/teacher came all the way from Ganado, Arizona; people also came from Albuquerque, Gallup, and the Ramah area. We walked and talked about rocks, designs, pools, ponds, and cement. There were questions about tools, rock shaping, and techniques that kept everyone busy until lunch – the social aspects then taking over as we laughed and ate. Soon it was time to go from theory to praxis. Everyone eagerly grabbed trowels, shovels, hoes, rock hammers and headed out to the chicken coop to do the next layer of a rock wall, building on what the two previous workshops had built. Each person was ready to do something physical, something concrete, after so much “book learning” and information.

We showed them how to mix the first load of cement and then we went to work. Some wanted to work on a pad just outside the door going into the chicken run; others couldn’t wait to start putting rocks in the wall, chipping and shaping, filling the back of the wall with rubble and cement. As with the other workshops, cooperation reigned: each took a turn with another person to mix the cement – shoveling in the 3 sand and 1 cement ratio, mixing it dry with the hoe, adding water slowly so it wouldn’t be soupy, and then finishing, until it was the same consistency as the demonstration batch. Everyone was able to observe, help, and learn from each other. In a few hours all were ready to stand back and watch the magic transformation that occurs when the cement is struck (the excess removed), washed with a whisk broom, and cleaned to reveal the shape of the rocks, fitted in next to each other by the many eager hands.

Just like the rock wall, last year’s garden has received a new layer. The transition is being completed. Plants held back from frosts and freezes have quarters in their allotted spaces. Strolling, weeding, and watering now provide a different tempo. Preparation has become praxis, and with it an end to the period of waiting. Now we are growing!



May 2003
"Palimpsest Bards"

Once again we were most fortunate to have the weather turn warm, the wind and scattered snow of only a few days before, passed on to the east. There were twenty two of us sitting out in the sun, wiggling the plastic patio chairs back and forth to anchor the legs firmly into the sand.

Once everyone was settled and comfortable, our guest speaker/poet/gardener, Tim Amsden, kicked off the second part of our Sustainable Organic Gardening Workshop by discussing the values of the garden as inspiration, not only for writing, but just for personal insights. We like to think of this as “action-meditation” which occurs while weeding, seeding, watering, or feeding the garden.

A couple of poems were read by Tim (not his, he is a modest fellow) and then followed by two of his own gardening related poems (he’s not that modest).

Our group consisted of a woman from the Women’s Inter Cultural Center, ten young people from the Youth Conservation Corps, two sisters from Catholic Charities, and others young and old, local and out-of-town. We had already gone through all the handouts, the basics, the hard-wired facts about fertilizers, soil building, intercropping, compost, seedlings, and mulch – along with the question and answers that always arise.

We had just been to the gardens, checked on the composting worms, walked the labyrinth, seen the greenhouses, and run the tiller - some of the braver ones doing some “hands-on”.

Now, after eating our sack lunches and getting to know one another better as we shared this picnic meal, it was time to get some inspiration – some ideas – some thoughts that were more guidingly abstract – hence Tim and his poetry. His assignment: to help compose our reflections of the workshop experience.

After a period of time, we went to reflect; some, sitting by a pool of water with its gentle re-circulated splashing and the friendly cats rubbing - asking for attention, and others out in the garden. A few went over to the chicken coop taking their cues from the continuous scratching and pecking, while others walked out into the field to feel and see the vista of cow pastures and sandstone cliffs, with the Zuni mountains as a backdrop in the distance.

We re-assembled in our chairs, rattling papers with furtive glances. Once one person had read what they had written, others wanted to read, albeit with some self-conscious hesitancy. There were haiku, rhymes, free verse, and my own personal doggerel. There were insights, flashes of felt moments, and humorous lines that set us all to laughing, young and old, and one memorable poem about our Mantis tiller that garnered applause.

A palimpsest is a manuscript, of parchment or the like, upon which the writing has been erased or partially scraped off, and at times a new text is simply written over the old text. It’s from the Latin “palimpsest” meaning to be rubbed or scraped. Such is the garden. Each year we scrape away what we, as bards, have written the year before with our seeds and plants. We revise last year’s manuscript by scraping away the old, and that which has accumulated over winter, to create a new, clear surface upon which we will write this year’s message to the world.

Some things are retained; the perennials, the herbs, and the returning flowers escape our clearing as we hold onto them and work around them. We increase our vocabulary with new varieties and add verve with adjectives of color. At times, as we write over last year’s verse, words or phrases may appear from beneath, speaking gently of the past, and our now commingling with it. Each year we write with new voices on that same piece of manuscript that we value, as the parchment around us is torn into smaller and smaller pieces by agribusiness and development.

How valuable that piece becomes when we have written our beliefs, our hopes, and our desires upon it. How easily read is it when others see the spring green, plainly speaking from the dark, wet ground. Can anyone mistake our words when seeing the results of plants bursting forth in paragraphs of colors? As we share our manuscript, no one has doubts as to the salads of our sentences.

The stories we write are old. A parchment is available to all. Each person’s writing provides another chapter of illumination, progressing toward the final book of cooperation and collaboration - speaking out for the benefit of all. And in the end, it will say, we have grown!



April 2003
"Heuristic Naiveté"

As another snow storm blows in, the ground increasingly whitens adding needed moisture for all the spring sprouting seeds that lay just beneath the surface, waiting for the right conditions to emerge and provide fresh tender shoots for small scurrying animals like the kangaroo rat and the numerous prairie dogs. The vegetation will add nutrients to the soil once their days in the sun are over. They also provide a welcome splash of colors for us to enjoy and be inspired by as we too are plied with new growth and inspiration. It is late in the season. What snow does fall and remains will disappear rapidly into the ground, the climbing sun not allowing a sustained cold to remain.

The greenhouse is becoming fuller now that the first planted seed trays have sprouted and those new small plants have been transferred into 4 inch pots. They will remain in the 4 inch pots and be moved to the greenhouse out by the garden to be hardened off and become well rooted, filling the pot so that when next transplanted into the ground, there will be immediate new root growth into the surrounding soil. We have also started the second set of seed trays that will provide, down the line, back ups (in case of a late frost) and a supply of plants for continuous growing: harvest one, pop in another without having to wait for germination and growth.

Recently while at a pot-luck, we met a man from Vermont who was an organic gardener. We didn’t get a chance to talk too much amid the swirl of conversations taking place about world events - some hawks, some doves, each flapping their wings, fanning a spark of personal idealism. At times, like-minded groups gravitated together solidifying their ideas with more hushed voices than had been used with their opposition.

A couple of days later, the fellow gardener came over for a visit. We talked about soil and seasons, potatoes, beets, carrots and garlic. We each related stories of other gardeners around our respective areas and our associations with them, and how similar they were despite such different environments: some have moose and deer, we have prairie dogs.

A river flows fastest in the middle: the sides are slow and often swirl in small whirlpools, momentarily static and clogged with debris. We can draw both sides to the middle by generating symbols of attraction (e.g. planting a seed) - an action seemingly easy enough to do, yet it requires a certain separation from society who eats, but does not plant. And once all who have left the safe shores to perform this rite, this planting of a seed, they then become a member of a new “communitas”, having shared an experience that often eludes others. The middle stream rush of seed planting is simple, a naive thing one can do that becomes an anti-structural experience. Each season sustains in its repetition the statement of problem and solution. This is expressed first as an individual and then as a group. The symbol of planting a seed can be powerful because it is ambiguous and therefore full of meanings.

It is easy in this techno-complex world to garner a scoff at any belief of the individual doing something that has an effect on the whole. Nevertheless, when we place a seed in the soil, we are in the middle of the stream, moving forward with other individuals whose goals are to proceed in harmony into the future. It is an action taken rather than spoken of. It promotes a leveling of differences. It can apply in any country, to any peoples. It can be understood without language. It can bind all pasts. It can direct all futures. And as grows that seed, so do we.



March 2003
DESIGNING A CONTEXT
“Stepping Back”

We find it amazing that labyrinths keep showing up in almost every magazine we open, from AARP (a senior citizens publication) to the New Mexico Magazine. Turning on the television the other evening and flipping through a few channels brought us to the sight of people in a church, (the pews having been pushed back to reveal an intricate, mosaic labyrinth on the floor) who were walking slowing and solemnly around the pattern in spiritual association.

A labyrinth is different than a maze in that there is only one path to the middle and from that center, only one way out. With the maze, dead ends can be around any corner, forcing you to back-track and search for another way in or out. To walk a labyrinth is an internal journey, a “period of practice” in which we can focus on and reinforce our deepest intents.

It wasn’t that long ago travel to exotic places all over the planet expanded our perspectives, concepts and views of our place in the universe. Serial satellites now show us on HD plasma screens not only the sight of once far away places, but intricate and intimate details of foreign lives, mingling in our homes with other data devices that allow us to speak with them if we wish. The Hubble telescope transmits to us pictures from distances that were they received instantaneously, may no longer even exist.

Despite the returning snows, our first seeds of the season have been sown, the heat mat turned on, water and warm days in the greenhouse bringing up the cotyledons to catch the light. When we notice some haven’t sprouted, there is always the temptation to start “digging around to see what’s wrong”. Usually the only thing wrong is our impatience. Each seed has its own appearance program and won’t be forced to germinate before its time.

There are some aspects of gardening which lend themselves to a policy of “laissez faire”. Recognizing these uninfluenciable intangibles allow us to pause in our forward rush to go from “seed to feed” and recognize that the desire too “do something” is effective only after we have, from experience, found those actions that are in keeping with the step by step procedures already well established in nature.

Today more than ever it seems to our advantage to take the time to be aware of that natural development. Marshal McLuhan noted that causality became open to scrutiny when electricity made things happen instantaneously, ending for us an appearance of sequence.

Entering the garden is much like entering a labyrinth. With the first step we are headed toward a “center”; step by step we know there are no dead ends that will make us doubt our choice of direction. The working harmonies of the garden bring us strength, perspective, insight, courage, knowledge and wisdom. We have entered into a sacred space that reminds us of our true purpose of existence – a life filled with meaning, value, and spiritual growth. We are renewed when we enter into an actual physical reality that is no longer just a thought within.

The goal is to walk our everyday lives within a “living labyrinth”, reflecting ideal reactions, relationships, and interactions – it is up to us how, and what, we grow.



February 2003
"FRACTAL GARDENS"

After school, as I neared the Jeep in the parking lot, I could see a message had been left on the door window; it was from the UPS woman parked across the lot by the post office. She had a package, glad to be able to deliver it to me there rather than drive down the muddy road she had been stuck in once already this year. I wasn’t too surprised when I read on the label that it was from “Seeds of Change”. We have found their large selection of organic seed to be mature, of good quality, with a high rate of germination. It had only been a day or two before that my wife had asked me to get some seed trays filled and bring the heating mat up from the basement to the greenhouse.

These lengthening days have melted all the snow except those spots on the extreme north east side of trees and buildings. Out in the garden, the garlic planted last fall has started to grow, reaching skyward taking in the sun’s energy. Several clumps of Violas are blooming still, showing their bright colors against the backdrop of melting snow.

While looking for the heating mat, I glanced over and saw our Mantis tiller ready to be filled with gas and have its tines dropped into the earth to help prepare the soil for spring planting. I felt suddenly I was again at that yearly threshold of creative potential. It is rituals like this that allow us to escape the limiting boundaries of our everyday lives, and return us to a place of discovery and creativity at the system’s edge. Once within the garden, we cease to be a mechanic, salesman, businessman, or teacher. Those titles and jobs fall away, along with much of the human activity that fosters dissent and unrest. Instead, we are able to clothe ourselves with an underlying attitude and direction that promotes emancipation and conviviality.

In this arrested time, we find our global view of man’s place in the cosmos, and carry it with us back into society, allowing it to aid in the restructuring of society. According to Victor Turner, “Ritual is a principal means by which society grows and moves into the future.” Benoit Mandelbrot, one of the founding fathers of fractal theory, found that chaos can become ordered. “When the values fed into an equation are themselves the results of that equation’s previous calculation, an infinitely variegated yet ordered and self-similar pattern emerges.” Thus, we “feed” this years’ garden, iterating the actions and knowledge from those years previous, our ritual providing a gateway, allowing us to expand our information and reveal creativity. These become tools for change.

Our beliefs are then utilized in “morphic fields of pattern perception”. When we return to the social structures, our individual actions have a “collective aspect that is synergistic in impact.” It is here we promote change, and “feed”, what Sandra Braman calls “horizontal evolution”, a world-wide human unfolding through concurrent interactions. Our world stands on the threshold of status quo - the “crowd mind”, affecting the outcome of social and economic tendencies. In desiring these tendencies to change, we can take heart from an encouraging fact drawn from chaos theory called the “butterfly effect” (when a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, ripples are felt in Kansas).

What we feed the social equation repeatedly will eventually create a self-similar pattern, actualizing a frontier, a new threshold from which we can step, and entering into communion as equal individuals, grow.



January2003
UNDER THE COVER OF EVENTS
“Down the Road”

Visitors these days asking to see the garden have to be satisfied with a walk down a snow-shoveled trail to view the gardens, using more imagination than sight, as we talk about the crops and methods that will come about at a later time. In some ways this is a good thing. Our most recent visitor, from Minnesota, had become a vegetarian a few years ago, and his garden was taking on a new importance in his life. By projecting information into the future, we were able to by-pass the immediacy of the drifting snow.

It is at this time of year that we find ourselves in a back-to-back situation: the media provide us memories of the past year’s events and push us into a new calendar year of resolutions and wonderings. The winds of past events, so important and earth changing, now ripple the surfaces of our lives, leaving what lies underneath to provide the appropriate tack to safe harbor. Julian Jaynes said that, “History does not move by leaps into unrelated novelty, but rather by the selective emphasis of aspects of its own immediate past.”

But all too often it is the “leaps into unrelated novelty” from which we are asked to shape our world; the aspects of our “immediate past” covered by “snow” only reveal the outlines of future promise. These outlines that are now submerged are the true and powerful currents that flow beneath the news-event announcements, running deep into an archaic past of common connection. This thread now runs from Minnesota to New Mexico as a sign post of direction: regardless of what is seen on the surface, our inner vision travels the same trail.

The drumming had already started by the time we arrived. The large living room of our neighbor was ringed with people pounding out rhythms, accompanied by others on wooden sticks, tambourines, a cow bell, and all manner of other instruments shaken, tapped, and scratched. Some danced free style in the middle of the room, each giving expression to their individual mood, style, and feeling of the moment. Food and drink in the kitchen provided a second gathering area. There we met gardeners from Taos and San Francisco as we shared experiences, methods, and the thrust or direction of their gardens.

All agreed that the “people connection” was the end goal, although each of us was taking a divergent route.

Outside, in a nearby field, an old barn built in the forties with discarded wooden ammunition crates from Fort Wingate had fallen down, been pushed into a pile, and was to be lit afire and watched late into the evening on this winter solstice.

This gathering interwove many a stream of our ancient past into a flowing direction of purpose and continuity, showing once again the outlines of our human destiny, now covered with a soon to melt obscurity. Thus, our visions of spring - looked forward to, worked toward, and shared - will provide the soil in which we can, together, grow.


Avant-Gardening is a creative process, a technique for growing personal creativity using plants as a medium to connect the garden outside to your inner-garden vision. It is a method of combining art, which is abstract, with craft, when working with a physical medium. It is a door, a path, a tool - allowing you to enhance your creative skills using plants.

It is learning how to establish a connection, joining inner visions, to physical and mental environments. The core of creativity is alchemy - the root of creative thinking - the basis for Avant-Gardening. ALCHEMY: from middle Latin: ALCHYMIA - transformation; to change in shape.

Personal creativity is a connection with the creative elements (air, water, soil) of the universe. You will have many creative situations that will be an opportunity to shift a paradigm - to step beyond yourself and your "limitations".

You can grow!





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