"Gardening allows us to make a holy place to serve the soul," writes Terry Hershey who has served as a Protestant minister and is now a writer and landscape designer on an island in Puget Sound. Whereas he once defined himself through his achievements and busyness, the author now takes the time to nurture life in the garden. It is the place that keeps him human: "To be human is about cultivating the good life."
This enchanting paperback is structured around the seasons of the year. The garden is the place that connects Hershey to the good earth and compels him to take note of death and new life, planting and watering, laboring and waiting. It is a place where one must come face to face with wind and rain, the sun and the moon, insects and animals. No wonder Hershey refuses to consider gardening a luxury or a hobby: for him it is a passion that truly roots him in the natural world and makes him care deeply about the health and well-being of the planet.
Hershey shares snippets of his life in other places and his visits to gardens around the world. He also suggests "Soul Gardening Exercises" that can be done amidst the plants and the animals and elsewhere too. He believes that gardening helps slow us down and take our hands off controlling our lives. He loves just to sit down and be still, to take a Sabbath break from all the hustle and bustle of life. He suggests:
"Buy a chair. A comfortable chair. A chair that was meant to be lounged in. A chair with your name on it. Put the chair in a place where you can sit for a spell. In the garden or on a porch or out under a tree. Let your thoughts cascade and spill. Give no heed to any compulsion to sort or assess them. And, most importantly, give no heed to the need to justify the time you just gracefully and lavishly 'wasted.' "
We seem to enjoy the same movies as Hershey, who quotes from Regarding Henry, The Big Chill, and Joe versus the Volcano. We find the same things funny, too. We laughed out loud at this story with a serious message:
"There's a terrific story about a first-grade Sunday school class. The children were restless and fussy. The teacher, in an attempt to get their attention, said, 'Okay kids, let's play a game. I'll describe something to you. And you tell me what it is.'
"The kids quieted down.
" 'Listen. It's a furry little animal with a big bushy tail, that climbs up trees and stores nuts in the winter. Who can tell me what it is?'
"No one said anything.
"The teacher went on. 'You are a good Sunday school class. You know the right answer to this question. It's a furry little animal with a big bushy tail that climbs up trees and stores nuts in the winter.'
"One little girl raised her hand.
" 'Well, teacher,' Emily declared, 'It sounds like a squirrel to me, but I'll say Jesus.'
"[Hershey observes;] We start young in this culture. Scared to death to be wrong."
What does this have to do with gardening? Plenty. The garden takes away all our answers to questions about life and death, fate and chance, and challenges us to be present, see clearly, and walk in wonder. That is why it offers a hint of heaven where playfulness is allowed and encouraged.