August 8, 2013

Doing the Garden, Digging the Weeds

A question for the day:  does gardening keep you young?
Me, in May 1967
I was seventeen years old in June 1967 when the Beatles released their masterpiece, ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’.  I had just graduated from high school and was on my way to college in September.  That summer, I had a job working for the town of Miami Springs, Florida, riding on the back of a trash truck.  It was, without question, the most physically demanding work I’ve ever done for pay.
To maintain my sanity, I kept a transistor radio strapped to a belt loop of my sweat-drenched shorts, and ‘Sgt. Peppers’ was the soundtrack to that summer.  I had no favorite track; they were all stunning, from ‘A Little Help From My Friends’ to ‘Sgt. Peppers Reprise/A Day in the Life’.  AM radio stations, though, preferred the shorter selections, and that meant I heard a lot of ‘Lovely Rita’ and ‘When I’m 64’.
I mention all this because I will turn 64 this month and that song has been much on my mind of late.  According to Steve Turner’s A Hard Day’s Write, Paul McCartney wrote the melody when he was ‘about fifteen’ and a version of it was being played by the Quarreymen as early as 1960.  McCartney refined the tune over the years (John Lennon dismissed the song as ‘twaddle’ and would have nothing to do with it) before it appeared as track two on side two of ‘Sgt. Peppers’
The gist of the song is that a somewhat socially inept young man ardently wants to win the affection of a young lady.  To do so, he poses questions about what their life will be like “when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now”.  And that life, at least as it sounded to my seventeen-years-old ears, was pretty dull.  “We shall scrimp and save” in order to rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight, and going for a ride on a Sunday morning would be the highlight of the week. Huh?  Knitting a sweater by the fireside?  Please!
But here’s the problem:  I’m about to turn that magical number, and my life is nothing like that.  Betty and I think nothing of popping down to New York for the day, where we’ll cram in shopping, museums and a stop at a garden or two.  If we haven’t been on an extended vacation of late, the reason has to do with our respective schedules.  I’m trying to finish my seventh book while juggling a speaking schedule that I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago; and Betty has a three-year calendar with a full slate of talks, demonstrations and garden club federation events blocked out through 2016.
And here’s the further problem:  I don’t feel like I’m 64.  I don’t even feel like I’m 54.  Maybe 44.  Perhaps it is all a matter of luck:  I have not suffered a major disease or accident and my business career was one that utilized my mind rather than my back (that stint on the trash truck was an eye-opener).  On the other hand, my life has been anything but sedentary.  We have traveled the world and had our share of ‘interesting’ experiences out there.  This weekend, we’ll be kayaking the DeerfieldRiver.  Yeah, it’s only Class 2 rapids, but still…
I’m willing to go out on a limb and credit gardening for keeping me young, or at least young at heart.  In McCartney’s words, “doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?”
Digging out the stump of a
birch in, I think, 2006
Gardening is, by definition, largely an outdoor activity.  Active gardening is physical.  We maintain a two-acre property that comprises lots of individual gardens plus an off-site 1,000 square foot vegetable garden.  In creating the garden around our home I have dug out 500-pound boulders and I routinely move fifty-pound containers.  I take down and cut up small trees, dig out stumps and, twice a year, spend one or two days hauling multiple truckloads of brush to the town dump.  I dig trenches and excavate for new beds.  I mow my own lawn.  While I give myself the right to come in during the worst parts of the afternoon heat, I am no stranger to coming in from a gardening session with my clothes soaked through.
I keep up this activity eight months of the year (and, during the winter months, I dig out my own driveway, albeit with the aid of a snow blower).  Unless it is a physical danger to do so (we leave the tall trees to arborists), Betty and I do all the heavy work around the yard.

So, send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view.  I’m turning 64 and, despite everything my seventeen-year-old self sneered at, it feels terrific.

1 comment:

  1. Three years later you are still as active (perhaps even more) than when you turned 64. And you still look like you could be 44 (and you aren't losing your hair!) Well done and here's to many more great years.