Late in the summer, when the tomato plants were chest high and zucchini had sprawled over the paths, the community gardeners realized they had everything but a scarecrow.
“Now there’s something I can do,” said I. “One evening, one scarecrow; what could be easier?
I collected old clothes and hats and two weeks later I hung a raggedy mother scarecrow and her baby on a pole at “Ladybug Landing.”
“Done at last!” I muttered, but soon remembered that I hadn’t sewn the mom’s arm around her baby. I’d have to go over early the next morning and secure the dangling child before going kayaking.
The garden is on a corner lot near the city hall. I don’t know if people walked a lot in that area before the garden grew, but they do now. And they don’t walk past it; they come through the pretty trellised gates and walk through it, savoring the exuberant growth.
“It calls to me,” raved one lady, “and these paths feel like forest duff.” They came by ones and twos and headed straight for me as I sewed, saying “Hello,” and “This is so wonderful!” and “You’ve done such a good job!”
Me? I’d done nothing but this lumpy, un-scary scarecrow but I kept answering, “I’m so glad you enjoy it!” and “Thank you” as if I had a right to. A man cruised by in a convertible, calling, “You guys have done a spectacular job!” I waved and smiled. A couple on their honeymoon asked how to start a community garden back home. A man asked about fertilizers and soil. I showed people around as though I were the resident docent, pointing out plants and the three-foot high beds for people with bad backs or wheelchairs. Someone gushed, “However did you do it?” and I said, “Easy. Good volunteers can do anything.”
After taking all this praise and good will as my own, you’d think I’d have felt like a fraud, but I didn’t. I felt wonderful about what “we” had done and was still feeling that way when I went over to the nearby market to collect onionskins. I noticed a young woman watching me with an uneasy “big city” look.
“I use them for dyeing Easter eggs,” I said, thinking to reassure her, but she took a step back and asked, “In August?”
“It’s for a children’s day camp run by the Extension Office,” I explained. “The Master Gardeners do food- and garden-related projects. This is mine.”
She sighed. “How do you find things like that? We’ve lived here since Christmas and don’t know anyone. I miss our community in Portland and can’t find one here, if there even is one.”
I had to smile, considering what I’d just left. When she finished her shopping, I herded her out of the parking lot, across the street, and into the garden. She was suitably delighted by the beauty and amazed at how much can be grown in a small space.
“But all the berries and peas outside the fence – don’t people eat them?”
“Sure,” I said, “the Master Gardeners put them out there as a gift – and advertising.”
Some friends with kayaks on their car came in to water their squashes and said, “See you at the boat ramp!”
“Are they Master Gardeners?” asked Janeen.
“No,” I said, “contra dancers.”
A man with his hands full of weeds said hello.
“Master Gardener?” asked Janeen.
“No,” I said, “BLM (Bureau of Land Management). I planted trees for his project at New River. But see that tall guy? He and his wife started this project. He builds Habitat for Humanity houses and she’s a Master Gardener.”
I’d moved here with a plan for meeting people: go to local natural history programs; join the Audubon Society and hiking groups; go contra dancing and get a kayak. Life would be good. I did these things and met nice people. Then, because I didn’t know how to garden in this wet northern climate, I joined the Master Gardener program, not knowing that I’d have to pay back every hour of class time with a volunteer hour. Ironically, that requirement has led to great satisfaction and fun plus even more friends than I’ve made the other ways.
Janeen gave me her address and I sent her a dance flyer and an application for the gardening program. I hope I’ll see her some day, dancing or digging. Connecting with a community isn’t just finding people you like. It’s how much you put into it that counts, just like school or dancing or love or singing.