After getting back from studying in Ecuador this summer, I had four weeks at home before I moved into college.This transition time was awkward and challenging: I was abruptly back home and expected the reverse culture shock to hit me — but sometimes it didn’t, and the familiarity I felt returning to the U.S. was jarring in its own way.
With a wide-open schedule for the first time in months, if not years, I wasn’t sure how to fill my days. I was feeling out-of-place in my country, in my privilege and at times in my family.
One way I was able to take my mind off the return was by spending time in our backyard garden. We have five raised-bed gardens: two 4-foot by 12-foot rectangles and three 4-foot by 4-foot herb gardens.
Our garden has a humble variety of plants — some thriving and some striving. Eight tomato plants twirl up their metal frame; three kale bunches sag disappointingly (surely not due to the gardener’s neglect); russet potatoes ruminate unseen, occasionally peeking out only to receive another dose of soil; zucchinis crawl up their stakes, growing fruits surely too heavy for their spindly little stems to bear; basil and mint, in their infancy, fail to grow with the weed-like zeal I was promised; strawberries, also in their youth, have yet to make their debut; and assorted herbs offer their fragrances free for the taking.
In addition to the garden, our family has tried unsuccessfully for years to compost — as much for the environment as for our garden. After having lay dormant over the summer, it surprised me: Despite months of disuse, the food scraps, corn cobs and egg cartons were showing promise. With an earthy smell and rich black color, I felt lucky to have witnessed the mini miracle of the cycle of life, decay and renewal.
And that’s why I think gardening was so helpful for me after SST: It connected me to Life and our Creator, the threads that span space and connect us to our place.
Upon returning, I missed my host families, the verdant landscapes, the food, the mountains, the culture. With summer fresh on my mind and the unsteadiness that came with it, the garden’s slow, methodical, dirt-caked work was what I needed.
Watering the garden, about an hour each day, I watched the soil turn from sun-scorched to saturated, from parched to water-logged and glistening.
And as I weeded out uninvited imposters in our garden a few weeks ago, I was connected with the gardens of my Ecuadorian host families. My great-grandmother from my host family in the Amazon had a bountiful garden resprouting after a fire burned over half of her garden (a garden the size of NC 17).
The garden was her pride and joy. She spent hours each day tending to the seeds and sprouts, and proudly beamed as she found signs of growth in plants she thought charred beyond repair.
Back home, tending our small plot was deeply fulfilling. With changes in language, culture, landscape and schedule on my mind, I could return to the garden and be reminded of the importance of our physical place. The soil beneath me and beneath Ecuador has been there for millennia, undergirding our steps.
After my summer of growth and change, digging in the garden gave me the consistency and grounding I needed. Garden growth is unique to each environment, but finding the beauty of the Earth can happen anywhere.