Getting Your Hands Dirty

There are two things I miss tremendously since leaving our old home behind to build a new one here in Austin: my dear friends and my garden. Unfortunately, short of convincing all of my friends to follow me here (believe me, I’ve tried), there is nothing I can do about the former. The lack of a garden, however, I plan to remedy in the spring. I am a relatively new inductee into the world of avid gardening (you can read about how I began my journey here), but when I first decided to enter that world, I jumped in with both feet. With my own two hands, I built a raised-bed garden complete with four beds set into a hill, gravel walkways, and handmade trellises.

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I was SO proud of it! I told my husband that I didn’t think I had created anything so beautiful since I created our sons. I’m not sure he ever fully understood my passion for it, but there is something about getting my hands in the ground – building, planting, nurturing – that is so centering for me. I discovered that being close to the earth and helping things grow is meditative and enriching.

And, of course, I am not alone. Even a cursory sweeping of the internet will show you the myriad benefits of getting our hands dirty. Here are just a few snippets I found:

  • A new study confirms that people who garden are less likely to display signs associated with unhappiness or depression. It found 80% of gardeners feel satisfied with their lives compared with 67% for non-gardeners, and 93% of gardeners think gardening improves their mood.
  • In a study by Bristol University, Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae, a “friendly” bacteria found in soil, was shown to activate a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, enhancing feelings of well-being, much in the same manner as antidepressant drugs and exercise. Interest in the study arose when patients treated with M. vaccae for another health issue reported increases in their quality of life (Lowry, 2007)
  • Beyond raising mood, time kids spend in the dirt may be the best preparation for the classroom, according to researchers at The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York. Creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.” (Science Daily, 2010)
  • Dr. Mary Ruebush, immunologist and author of ‘Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends’, counts letting kids play in the dirt as immune-system-building step number one. “Let your child be a child,” she says. “Dirt is good. If your child isn’t coming in dirty every day, they’re not doing their job. They’re not building their immunological army. So it’s terribly important.” (CBS News, 2009)
  • Making direct contact with soil, whether through gardening, digging for worms, or making mud pies has been shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and facilitate learning. – ‘The Dirt on Dirt’ by the National Wildlife Federation

Although I have not had a chance to build my new garden yet, last weekend I was able to get out into our yard to rebuild some existing corner beds and create a small patio area for our new fire pit. These simple acts of hard, dirty work rekindled my desire to consistently connect to the earth – even if it’s just our little backyard patch of it.

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Rest assured, there will be pictures of my brand new Austin garden coming soon. Until then, get outside and get your hands dirty. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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You’re Missing the Point

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For all my efforts at trying to see the beauty in the small stuff and not let life’s little joys go unnoticed, sometimes I really miss the boat. My four and a half year old has finally learned that, when he wakes up, he does not need to immediately wake up Mama and Daddy simply to inform us that he’s awake. However, sometimes this means that he’s up incredibly early and we don’t know it and thus cannot tell him to go back to bed. The other day he apparently arose early enough to witness the sunrise. When his daddy got up, he exuberantly declared, “Daddy, you missed it!!! The whole sky was orange. It was SO beautiful!” When hubs told me later about his sweet enthusiasm for beauty, my first thought, riddled with anxiety about the day ahead, was, “Greaaaat… That means he was up before sunrise. *Sigh*” Jonathan just looked at me and said, “You’re missing the point. Our 4-year-old was excited to see the sunrise all on his own.” I felt like I had been slapped awake. Pessimism and anxiety can be entrancing. We have done such a lovely job instilling an appreciation of beauty and nature in our children that the sunrise excites them. His wonder and enthusiasm have not been squelched. Just another example of how my children are often better teachers to me than I am to them – even if their lessons sometimes require a daddy translator. It is comforting to know that even if I miss the boat from time to time, my family is there to throw me a line and get me back on board.

The Great Outdoors

I have always known, but somehow need to be continually reminded that time outdoors is essential to my happiness and well-being. Some of the moments in life that I have felt the deepest connection to spirit and self have been times that I’ve spent alone or with a loved one in nature. Soaking in the reality, beauty, and simplicity of the untouched world. Stepping away from screens and music, work and stress, and the continuous noise of busy life into the quiet sounds of plants and birds and children’s laughter. Experiencing sunlight as it filters through the trees creating shadowy artwork on the ground. Discovering forgotten clearings along paths through the woods that seem as sacred as a temple and using those spaces to meditate and reclaim calm. Sitting on a park bench and watching children who are still too young to be self-conscious run and play and be free in a way that many adults envy in the deepest parts of themselves. Dropping the restraints of time and tasks and pretending for a short time that they do not exist. Inhaling the smell rag weed and wood mulch, dead leaves and earth all in the same breath and feeling cleansed by it. Going home dirtier than you’ve been in a long time, yet with no desire to wash it off. This is life in its simplest and best form and I am grateful for it.