Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Days

It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, as my favorite Presbyterian minister used to say.
I got a note from my uncle this morning. Yesterday was my late aunt's birthday as well as the anniversary of their engagement. He recalled that their first book was on creation care, although long before that term of art had come into use.
John's note details what is happening in his garden this spring, and notes that both of the camps that he directed over the many years, Hanover and New Hope, had substantial demonstration gardens that helped feed the camp community.
None of that particularly suprised me. I have seen John in the garden many times over the years at Hanover -- the first time he met my two sons he was working in the garden, dripping sweat and loving life.
But reading his note prompted me to wonder where his love of the garden came from. My father, John's younger brother, never muched cared for gardening. My mom loves it, but dad never had any interest that I could discern. He knows nature that way one might know a set of facts. He always knew what kind of tree was growing in front of him, but as he grew older it seemed that trees were mostly obstacles to mowing the grass.
To be sure, my dad has always been an environmentalist in his convictions, but not so much a practicing one beyond the point of basic stewardship of resources -- and on that point I have always had the impression that it was more about saving a nickel than saving the planet.
Until the past few years I would have said that I was much more like my father than like my uncle. As urban dwellers in Chicago we rarely had any green space in which to garden, and we never went out of our way to create any.
During our interim sojourn between those years and our Arlington time we did have yards, and we did some basics, but those were also the years when our children were young and so time was always at a premium.
But I think the bigger issue was that we did not stay put long enough to put down roots, literally.
Now we've lived in the same house for almost seven years, and there's no move on the horizon. We've planted a tree, an autum blaze maple, and stayed put long enough to see it grow taller than the house. We just planted another, a Japanese emperor maple, that will never grow as tall as the house, but I hope to stay put long enough to see it broaden across one half of our small front yard.
Tending to the earth requires time, and time spent in one place. It also requires focusing on that one place with considerable attention. I think this was the great difference between my father and his brother.
Now my dad is slipping gradually into Parkinson's dimentia, and he lives pretty much out of focus all the time. But long before the disease struck, my dad's restless, creative energy drew his focus always to the next thing, while my uncle not only stayed put physically, he also stayed put emotionally.
I have always been, in that respect, my father's son. The horizon has always beckoned, and I've always looked for the next thing. I'm sure that will always be true, but I have learned that the only reason the grass if ever greener on the other side is because someone stayed put long enough to make it that way.
As I watched the pictures from the Gulf oil rig disaster this week, it struck me that we need all of that oil because we are a culture that does not value roots. It is altogether fitting that the great crises of our time are and will be about what our lifestyles are doing to all of the roots that we are too busy to tend.