Sunday, August 22, 2010
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: My father always had a garden. He loved making things grow, and even when we were living in New York City, he had an area of the dining room crowded with potted plants, and a bit of the window sill beside the fish tanks lined with stem-filled bottles of rank water and roots, and glasses where old pits sat unmoving, suspended by tooth picks. Each summer we rented a house with a garden where I quickly learned to walk carefully to avoid stepping on tiny things I couldn't see. I can still remember watching him in awe and terror, in that garden where the tomatoes were a jungle canopy high over my head, petting a bumble bee for me on his finger.
It was a trick, of course, and I'm not sure where he learned it. I don't think he thought it was something the bee enjoyed, just something it permitted. That's what it was to me, anyhow, a scary trick, and I never had the courage to learn it.
Many years later, when my parents were no longer renters but owned their own garden, my father had plants wherever he could. They were in the living room and on the porch. A small greenhouse was tucked against an outside wall where living room windows looked into it, and the work room we called, "the tool house," was so filled with plants that one could barely use the rusting tools, and he had vegetable garden too.
There was an ethical note to his gardening then that I had not noticed when I was younger. Perhaps it had not been there; perhaps I was too young to understand. If a plant died because he or a "sitter" had missed a watering it was a failure of responsibility in a way that was very different than if he had accidentally run out of gasoline on the highway. He was a down to earth, practical man, and I was surprised once when I may have accidentally abused a cutting, "It's a living thing," he admonished.