Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Cultivate Our Garden"

My mother’s cure-all for her children’s complaints of boredom was to tell us to go out and weed the garden.  Suddenly we were always able to discover a way to occupy ourselves without resorting to such drastic measures.  Though we weren’t too fond of the hoe, we loved going out to harvest my grandpa’s raspberry patch. 
We spent our summers on our grandfather’s farm.  He had an apple orchard, a barn with cows to milk, a chicken coop, rows of neatly tended garden produce, 
And a raspberry patch.
It was so satisfying to slide the red, ripe raspberries off their stems and plop them into the large can that hung from a string around our necks.  Of course, a lot of the berries never made it to the can.  We’d stand in the tall bushes for what seemed like hours, the prickly limbs scratched our arms as we reached for the berries.  The patch was big enough that we could stake out our territory, moving from one rich clump of fruit to the next without running into anyone else’s claim. As the sun settled into the west,  we’d emerge from the patch, hot and sticky. With our pink-stained fingers, we’d dump out our can of berries and look forward to seeing them again at the end of the day.  Our dessert was always raspberries and cream, sprinkled with a little sugar.
                A generation later, I can hear myself telling my kids to weed the yard when they’re bored.  Though they don’t relish the work any more than I did in my youth, my kids and their cousins take great pleasure in harvesting raspberries.  The problem is we don’t go to my grandpa’s little farm nearly often enough. I have a tiny raspberry patch in my own garden that we greatly enjoy.  It takes us all of ten minutes to pick the berries, but that—and the strawberry patch—is the one place my kids volunteer to work in the yard.
Now I enjoy going out to weed my flower beds. It is my reward for when I get all my household chores and community responsibilities completed.  Hey, I just realized—I finally learned to cure my own boredom with working in my yard (although I haven’t thought to call those rare moments without a pressing need boredom for quite some time).  My mom was right all along.

Voltaire’s Candide

Voltaire’s protagonist, Candide, was raised in the “best of all possible worlds.”  He was blessed with both a gentle disposition and sound judgment.  He loved a lovely young lady named Cunegonde.
Then Candide came of age in tragic circumstances.  He was severed from his loved ones and seized as a soldier.  There follows a long train of outrageously unlikely predicaments:  shipwreck, earthquake, inquisition, murder in self-defense, and a visit to the utopian city of Eldorado (where the streets are paved with gold) which he abandons to seek his beloved Cunegonde.  
Along the way he meets a philosopher who insists that no one can be truly happy.  To validate his claim, this philosopher introduces Candide to not only victims of abuse, but a man who has everything but values nothing, great kings in exile, and even his long-lost Cunegonde who by then had lost her lovely bloom of youth and transformed into a complainer.
Candide married Cunegonde and their troublesome travels were replaced by tedium.  Cunegonde grew shrewish.  Her lady-companion speculated that her life may have been better as a slave on a pirate’s ship.  The philosopher friend observed, “that man was born to spend his life alternately a prey to the throes of anxiety and the lethargy of boredom.”  Though Candide disagreed, he could not assert otherwise, lacking sufficient evidence. 
Then they met the farmer and everything changed for the better.
Candide and company marveled at the wealth and good-will of the farmer, assuming he must be in possession of a huge fortune.  The farmer replied, “I have but twenty acres, . . . I cultivate them with my children.  Work keeps us from three great evils:  boredom, vice, and need.”
As Candide and his friends returned home, they realized that Adam and Eve were placed in the garden of Eden to work.  They resolved to cultivate a garden of their own, which they did.  They developed talents and enjoyed the satisfaction that comes from harvesting the fruits of their own labors. One of Candide’s friends gratefully reflected on the painful road they traveled to reach their “garden of Eden.” 
“‘That is well put,’ replied Candid, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.’”
There is more than one type of seed and more than one way to plant it.  I planted the seed of this story a couple of days ago, yet managed to wake up feeling depleted this morning.  I was determined to post this blog entry so I got to work, tending the seed, and now that it has blossomed into a blog post, I feel energized and ready to take on the day’s challenges.
Cultivate your garden, whether it is in the soil or in your soul.


  1. Beautiful! I love it! Hard work is really satisfying, isn't it?

  2. Reading this blog is like eating a hot fudge sundae.. .with nuts. . .and whipped cream. . .and a cherry.
    Yes, hard work and ongoing tasks are so lovely to conquer for me, and I believe that major responsibilities that children must accomplish enable them in ways that nothing else can. We like to buy our children tools instead of finished things and low and behold, they have turned out to be capable, creative and hardworking. (most of the time, of course)

  3. One of my favorite delights is raspberries with cream, sprinkled with sugar and nearly frozen. This pleasure no doubt comes in part from the memories that go with it.

    Working with your kids in the yard brings some of the greatest rewards parenting has to offer. After the groans, comes the commaradorie of companionship and the victory of work well done.