(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 7, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Optimism is planting a seed in the bare blank earth.
My friend Lou, who lives in Texas, said to me: "Every single one of us must have a heart of optimism or we would never go to the garden. We believe that tiny little seed will germinate, flourish, and produce the flowers and the fruit of the vine." And isn't that the truth?
When I was little, about the age of my grandson Ethan who is four, I am sure I asked the same questions he asked me. I knew as surely as the sun came up over the mountains every morning that those seeds would grow. There was never a doubt. I don't remember the first time I was ever in a garden, but by the time I was three or four I was helping to plant seeds in it. It was a field of bare earth, with straight rows that had been plowed by Uncle Dock and his old mule, from one end to the other. My grandmother took me with her early in the morning and showed me how to drop two little seed beans at a time, about as far apart as two of my steps, down the long straight row. When we ran out of beans, we planted corn, but only one seed at a time went in the corn rows. She told me that if we planted the seeds, they would grow and give us food to eat. I never doubted her, and she never had doubts either.
When my mother gathered seeds from all her flowers at the end of the summer, she stored them away in envelopes, or small brown paper bags, knowing that as soon as the spring sunshine came, she would again have blooms all over the mountain that was our back yard. It never mattered how harsh our winters were, we knew there would be a summer full of blooms.
During our past winter, Kentucky and some surrounding states suffered major ice storm damage. Limbs, branches, entire trees covered our yards, and at one point I could not get out my front door for the debris that blocked my way. My 20 foot tall holly tree that the birds had planted many years ago was bent and frozen solid to my trellis. The redbud I had brought from the mountains was split down the middle by a limb from its neighbor, the cottonwood tree. The maples were scalped, and shocked squirrels found their nests on the ground. The young magnolia I started from seed was frozen flat beneath the downed branches of the maple that grew behind it.
"Let us cut down these trees," the arborists said to me, "they will probably not survive, it would be best to take them down."
"We will top them all," said the tree trimmers, "we'll take all the tops out to about 15 feet above the ground. That's the only way to save them."
"Who needs these trees," said a young man who was looking for extra money, "you'll just have the same problem with the next ice storm."
But the gardener in me said "No!" to all of them. I need those trees.
And so it went from February into March, while I dragged a branch at a time and placed it in a pile for the city trucks to pick up. One lovely afternoon a group of young people from a neighboring church came with their dads and chainsaws.
"We'll get rid of these limbs for you, and we will do any cutting you want us to do. Whatever you want done, just tell us."
And so I had them cut all the broken branches at a 45 degree angle. They pulled the downed limbs from my baby magnolia and it popped right back up. They untangled the holly from my trellis and I swear it cheered as it flipped upright again. They took away the broken half of my redbud, and trimmed what was left of it. But they cut down none of my trees.
Today, nine weeks after the ice storm, the little helicopter seeds are hanging from my maples, the baby magnolia has new leaves forming. The holly is grinning from ear to ear, and my redbud, oh my redbud...it holds the most glorious blooms. And I am sure the squirrels have built new nests, as have my returning bluebirds. My daylily gardens were covered in ice just a few weeks ago, now they are knee high, and lush.
What is optimism but faith? Faith that nature will renew itself. Faith that from one seed many beans will grow, many flowers will show their colors, the bluebirds will return, and the redbud trees will bloom again. Gardeners are filled with wide eyed optimism, or we would never giggle with delight to find earth worms in our soil.
No matter the zone we live in, we all share the common denominator: optimism. It is the belief in things unseen, the hope that change will be for the better. It is in knowing that ice storms will not destroy us, and that trees with broken limbs will continue to bloom. It is in knowing that when the morning sun greets us, we will smile again.
May all your storms turn to sunshine in your gardens.
Thank you, LouC, my very dear Texas friend.
All photos in this article are my own.