Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Writing and gardening -- two peas in a pod

One of my former state government colleagues advised me about retirement. He retired years before I did and was confronted with many volunteer offers. His wife, in a stroke of genius, advised him to take out his appointment calendar and write "No" on each page. She wanted him free to travel and spend time together.

I was tickled to see this same person on the list of volunteers for the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. It's a long list -- 88 in all, according to volunteer coordinator Amy Gorbey.  She's the energetic person who keeps tabs on us all. I had taken the couples' advice and held off volunteering for my first two years. For the most part, anyway. I did some volunteering for the Democrats leading up to the 2016 election. We all know how that turned out. I was asked to become part of several boards but declined. I wanted time to write and I that's what I got.

Over time, I feel a need to reconnect with humans. I figured I could have my morning writing time, in solitude, and then spend afternoons greeting visitors and otherwise helping out at the new Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and its new Grand Conservatory.

Thus far at the CBG, I've picked up sticks on the grounds, detritus from spring wind and snow storms. I snacked with some of my fellow volunteers. On Saturday, I staffed the front desk. I greeted many people, most from Cheyenne but others from Colorado and elsewhere. Most walked through the conservatory in less than a half hour and exited. Some lingered. One couple brought in their lunch and ate on the second floor that overlooks the many growing things on the main floor. One young woman carried a book as she disappeared into the gardens. One gentleman had a phone photo of a plant on the third floor and asked me what it was. I sent him and his question over to the horticulturalist. One attendee who exited a baby shower with an armful of gifts, said she was from Torrington and loved the CBG, wished her town has something similar. Not likely, considering the work that went into planning the conservatory and getting the voters to approve a sixth penny amendment to fund it. Cheyenne is the only city of its size to have such an amenity. Some might call it a lifestyle enhancement, as it gets bragged about by the Visit Cheyenne and C of C folks. Voters have approved initiatives for the CBG, a new airport facility, the public library. But they keep rejecting a recreation center. There are as many reasons for these issues as there are voters. Maybe I will explore them in a future column.

The CBG has been treasured by residents since it began its life 40 years ago as a simple greenhouse on U.S. Hwy. 30. Almost every growing thing you see in the city was planted by someone. The only naturally occurring plants belonged to the short-grass prairie. Native Americans and settlers found trees along waterways. In fact, you could I.D. a water source when parched travelers sighted trees off on the horizon. Snow-capped mountains lured people to the West but it was snow melt that brought prosperity. How it was harnessed is one of the West's great stories. Sad ones, too.

I like growing things. Not enough to be a farmer but enough to be a fair-weather gardener. That activity has something in common with writing. You prepare the soil, plant seeds, fertilize and water, and eventually harvest. If you don't like each of these steps, then why bother? I can buy tomatoes at the grocery store and farmer's markets. I can check out books at the library and even buy a few at my local neighborhood bookstore. Why grow my own?

I like the act of writing. It's fun, it's frustrating. After I spent a lifetime writing millions of words, i have finally arrived at a time when I'm pretty good at it. This is the harsh truth of any creative endeavor. There is no quick way to become good at something. This is a definite drawback when it comes to selecting college majors and making a living. But if it gives you meaning, you can't avoid the inevitable. Horticulture majors have a leg up on English majors, unless those well-read folks decide to parlay their knowledge of Emily Dickinson and magical realism into a law school admission.

You can grow a book. You can grow a garden. They both take time and attention, both in short supply in 2018.

Get more info on the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens at Tips on writing? So many resources. The act of writing is a prerequisite for the other stuff.


Lynn said...

Great analogy. I had a veggie garden when we lived in Lusk and loved it--warmer, less wind there. But when we moved east of Cheyenne I told Mike we weren't going to try to grow anything that wasn't already growing on this wind-and-hail-battered prairie.

Now I can marvel at the hailstorms as they swoop in, instead of moaning, "Oh, the tomatoes! The poor tomatoes."

Both writing and gardening take a lot of faith, too. Doing all the work and hoping something will come out of it. But worth it, in the end. Thanks for the post.

Michael Shay said...

Thanks for your comments. A few summers ago, I was out in my backyard covering my tomatoes from golf ball-sized hail while, out front, my car got pounded with dents. My rook took a beating too. Tomato growers have strange priorities.