Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

january 2013

The Quiet Garden

Daniel Swenson-Klatt

There is snow covering much of my garden these days.  The dried stems of flowers are reminders of what was a beautiful growing season here.  I can imagine the yellows and purples that finished the fall, but now brown and white and gray are all that is left.  It’s both quiet and still, and yet somehow, there is an activity that continues through it all.  Snowfall. Animals focused on survival scurrying about the yard. The play of light and dark. Thaw and freeze.  Things still happen. 

But there is a sense of rest.  Waiting. Patience, even.  

I want to fight that feeling of quiet waiting. I want to get out and shovel. Go play in the snowdrifts. Do something.  Stay up way past dark (5:00 pm).   Do. Do.

Wait, the garden sighs.  Take it easy.  There will be time come spring.

I should plan for spring.  Get busy.  The days will go by too quickly.  Shop now and then shop again tomorrow. Get everything ready now so I will be ready when it is time to get into action.

Take a break say the flower stems.  We ran out of seeds.  We gave up our color. Come spring the only thing we’ll be good for is making soil.  May as well just go with it.  Let it be.  Watch our shadows move across the snow. By the way, thanks for not cutting us down, we know we’re not useful for much else than for shadow play.

If only my business would be in a place where I could take time to sit and watch shadows.  This time of year requires much diligence toward cash flow and record keeping and tax preparation and end of year reporting and…

Focus on the basics the birds beckon. Warmth. Food. Shelter.  Save your energy.  Play it smart.  This really is the time when it is important to take care of your own needs.  If you’re healthy and strong, you make it to spring. Do what it takes to stay warm.  That’s all there is to it really.

I fear that I don’t have enough stored up to get through to spring.  That I didn’t get enough harvest to stretch the rations.  I go to the cellar and count the jars and hope they’ll make it through winter.   Do I have enough compost in the bin to replenish the soil?  Will there be enough moisture to recharge the land?  

When I am able to keep in mind how good farming practices recognize the need for using natural cycles of growth – harvest – death – rebirth, then I can begin to see how useful these are for caring for my own self-soil.  If I want to produce a rich harvest from my own toiling, then I must have rich, fertile soil to work with.  And I know far too well how unproductive I can feel when I have neglected to care for myself.

As a teacher, I spent 20 years in the business of nourishing students.  It is a demanding job and requires a lot of work to stay lively and able to produce good results.  I knew that I needed to keep turning over new soil – new ground – by trying new approaches and looking for better ways to teach the material and objectives that were assigned to me.  It was much like the efforts farmers go through to add compost to their soil, rotate their crops, and stay alert to best practices in order to get good results from the same piece of land over and over again.  We risk destroying our harvest when we neglect this easy process of just staying fresh and looking for ways to supplement the repetitive tasks in our lives.


I also knew that when I had reached the point where it was too difficult to feed that soil enough nutrients to get a good harvest, that it was time to let that piece of land go fallow and give it time to recharge and be restored.  I left teaching not because I didn’t love it, but truly because I loved it so much that I couldn’t bear to produce less than a bountiful harvest.  I needed fallow time from classrooms or I would have been throwing seed into ground where it wouldn’t grow.  My teaching soil needed time to rest.


It has been seven years.  I have been working in other fields (literally).  Growing a business has required me to learn a lot more about how to care for myself because there are no weekends and no summer vacations, no winter breaks, and no evenings off.  I have needed to develop other ways to nourish my soul and feel like I am away. I have indeed had to add a whole lot of compost into my soil to learn to grow new skills and have found myself pulling a lot of weeds, because I hadn’t planted well or tended to my soil well enough. 


And so it is that my garden calls to me this winter.  Get some rest.  Let something go fallow next spring.  Let the compost do its thing over the winter. It will be ready when it is time to plant again.  Plan to rotate the crops and get a fresh start.  But for now, let the snow cover do its part to insulate and the darkness to call me to rest. Patience. Rebirth will come from this quiet stillness.