We made a giant seesaw in front of the chicken pen; the three neighbor children and I. From under the barn and in junk piles, we gathered stuff like a quarter of a creosote power pole, galvanized pipes and boards. That took weeks; it wasn’t a very focused effort. As we found one part, we’d add it to the pile by an old, claw-foot bathtub in the yard. Weeds grew through it, and with a rusty chicken pen in the background, we’d created a perfect junk-yard scene. It really looked like a mess. It was taking a long time, and I doubted myself when I’d glimpse it from the porch. Why not just go out and buy a seesaw kit? I chided myself for being stuck in my parents’ depression era, don’t-throw-anything-away mentality.
But the youngsters didn’t think any of that stuff. All they knew was that we had a plan and a sketch that showed each step of the process and how each piece of junk would fit together. We learned about levers and balance and trust. I learned that they didn’t care if it happened slowly and bit by bit. Honestly, it was me who wanted this seesaw. Those children were helping me achieve my goal. I doubt they derived much pleasure from it either. But they loved the scavenger hunt for junk, the planning, the digging and rolling the telephone pole into place. And, of course, they loved the highs of seesawing.
When it all finally came together at the end of August, seesawing was just part of the fun. At first they were timid. But soon they improvised, balancing and running up to tip the plank, then down the other side. Sure-footed as week old goats.
The whole scene begged for photographs. When I first looked at the pictures, I focused on people’s faces, on their laughter and fear. I looked at the junk turned seesaw, at individual parts of the scene. When I posted a pic on Facebook, boy, people loved it. Just the sight of that sloping board brought out floods of memories and sentiment. A simple raised plank seems to hold lot of potential.
One Facebook friend who’s a gardener saw something totally different. Gardeners notice the green stuff that is just background to most people. She commented a question, “What’s that giant vine in the background?”
That giant vine is where my joy in helping someone achieve a goal comes in. I didn’t do all that much to help, but let me tell you what, if helping somebody do that is a high, then helping your Momma do it is reaching the moon. See, my Momma loves the idea of making cool things from free things. And she has tremendous compassion for any living thing. While she’s worried that a child is going to get crushed under the seesaw, she’s pragmatic; she knows they’ll probably get over it. What she was really worried about was that her chickens inside that rusty fence would get too hot during the summer time.
Like the best of garden designers, she thought about how to use the habits of a certain plant to do something useful and to do it beautifully. She dreamed of a giant gourd vine covering the pen and letting its heavy fruits hang down like Christmas ornaments over the chickens.
Back in April I pointed out some gourd vine volunteer seedlings near the compost pile. She moved them. When the chickens pecked at the young shoots, she wove them into the fence. When the donkeys tasted them, she put an aluminum lawn chair over them. When those little gourd vines didn’t seem to grow, she restated her vision and added more manure.
And then, on the very same day that our seesaw was finished, those scrawny vines went from being wiry things to completely smothering the chicken pen. Overnight, a dense green blanket saved the chickens from sunburn and probably left them confused by perpetual emerald light— and probably concerned about the great heavy gourds dangling over their heads. Momma could have crowed. She was looking on the scene and seeing only that massive gourd vine, brushing right past our seesaw. Not only did it look like she’d dreamed, but somebody on Facebook had actually commented on the vine!
I’d been looking on the scene and seeing only that seesaw. Then I realized that these photographs had the same components of any complete garden scene: grass, plants and a little bit of furniture or fence, and people enjoying the whole thing.
What’s really needed to make a joyful garden scene? It can be as simple, as cheap or as complex and costly as you make it. An English style teak bench or a junk pile seesaw. A bay hedge or a gourd curtain. A swimming pool or a rain barrel. For our scene, the components were a free, found thing. Either way, you always need a few things that are unownable, things that belong to every grandmother, every son and every child and every chicken; things easy to posses and impossible to own like:
1. The magic of a gourd seed.
2. Sun, rain and air
3. The life in compost
4. Vision and dreams
5. Attention to basic needs of other living beings
6. Openness to incorporate other peoples ideas