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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: We all should be gardeners

Published: Monday, May 27 2013 4:05 p.m. MDT

Radish seedlings are planted in rows.

Larry Sagers

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And God made gardeners. Humans became civilized when we became gardeners. It is not by accident that Genesis starts out with Eve and Adam in a garden. In the narrative of King James, there were times when the process of creation is pronounced good. It was only when the organization was complete and there were gardeners to till and tend the earth that the scripter proclaims the work was very good.

Gardeners grow a better earth. Sadly I must say I do not. I hope somehow that caring for sick children will neutralize this glaring character flaw. I put the blame for the lack any horticultural sense squarely on my childhood in the Valley of the Sun. The emphasis is on Sun. In Arizona, the summer heat would reach boiling. I’m not talking only about the boiling point of water but of my mother’s patience with her two boys. Gardening is one of those things you have to have in your blood. It must have evaporated from my brother and me.

Unlike Glen Andersen, the neighbor behind us who grew everything, our food crop consisted of a pathetic patch of radishes. Why mom chose radishes to farm from all earthly abundances including zucchini I will never know. Yet, every year she would plant them like adherence to an eleventh commandment. They were in a small line to the right of the basketball hoop. Stepping on them meant you were out of bounds.

With years passing, I envy beyond the fruits and vegetables those who call themselves gardeners.

Gardeners are special because of their understanding of time and seasons.

The universal disease of modern men and women is racing time. We rush to the grocery and stand with our one apple in the fewer (not less) than 10 line. We are impatient with the shopper in front of us with 11 items. We bite into the apple on the way to work without as much as a second thought until we chew on the sticker.

What we consume in minutes is a product of years. The gardener/farmer clocks his existence not on the single crop, but over the life of the tree. Modern transportation and marketing provide instantaneous delight without us getting our hands dirty or break into a sweat. There is no effort and hence no connection with the fruit we purchase. It is immaterial that it is not in season in the Northern Hemisphere. It is as though it just appears. The title of consumer is so right.

Working with your hands frees up the mind to pause. The perception of minutes become hours to days to months to seasons. When the fruit trees first blossom in spring the thoughts do not, cannot race ahead to the harvest. There is too much in between. Therefore, time stops right there to look at the colorful blooms.

In fact, to halt the spin of the seconds there does not need to be any flowers at all. Plants in a garden merely are instruments of friction to apply brakes to our senses. The Zen Gardens of pure rock are void of living plants but are not empty of life. We add the spark when we stop and ponder.

With the renewed interest in urban gardens and eating local fare, the gifts are fresher tomatoes but also a better taste of time.

The slowing of our lives transforms us, not the size of a plot. Too much or too little sun is no longer an excuse. Apartment dweller or large landowner does not matter. It helps to plant, weed and water. However, without seeds we can practice being gardeners of our time. It is how tightly we wind our clocks. We become gardeners in heart and mind. We savor life more thoroughly. We learn to work and wait for the harvest.

We all can be gardeners. We don’t have to plant radishes.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for over 30 years, a hospitalist and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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