I recently listened to the BBC’s Why Factor: “Gardens” — 18 minutes of pleasure, with a breathtaking story at the end.


It reminded me of a visit to Afghanistan where I was asked to teach a group of widows how to garden. There were no tools to work with, so this is what we did, with stones and sticks:

xPlanting Widow's Garden

My friend Sheryl Shapiro, who took these pictures, then went off to find and buy at least a shovel, though that soil required a pickax, too.

I wish I had a picture of the little boy, the widow’s son, initiating the shovel. I thought the child might injure his foot pushing so hard to break that packed clay. But eventually, with the shovel — O blessings on shovels! — and the first loosening of earth, we knew the widow would slowly make headway. Still, we hadn’t done too badly with those sticks and stones.

(I remembered there’s a reason Native Americans made mounds for planting, especially squash, and that is what we tried to do.)

xWidow's Garden

A line or two from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ exquisite 1877 poem, “God’s Grandeur” ended the BBC broadcast.

*Here is the entire poem:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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