How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 4

My love of open spaces is a well known fact amongst my family, and friends.  Every now and then I come across a different kind of space that intrigues me.

In my old neighborhood there was a community garden, which I passed every day on my way home.  Each spring there was a group of wildly clad people, that reminded me of Romanian gypsies, traipsing from an apartment complex to a plot of land along side the Mennonite Church.

Men donning brightly colored suspenders, and old fashioned military hats, put muscle to spades, turning soil as expertly as any modern day machine.  If I happened to pass by in the early evening, men and women with hoes and rakes slung over their shoulders, would be making their way home from their work on the land.

I watched in awe as the garden transformed from tiny seedlings, lost in a sea of dark soil, to a lush garden of vegetables densely populating every square inch of precious ground.

During my travels in European countries it always fascinated me how people made use of the tiniest pieces of earth.  A strip of land measuring no more than five inches wide by four feet long was pressed into producing lettuce and onions.  In poorer countries, roof tops displayed live checker boards of peppers, carrots, tomatoes, beans, and a dazzling array of herbs.

Watching the neighborhood farmers plant and harvest their garden a couple of years, I decided it was time to give into my longing to record these remarkable people who were so connected to the earth.

With great trepidation I entered the garden thinking I would begin with small talk;  then ask permission to photograph them.  To my surprise no one spoke English.  From what little information I could gather they were from the Ukraine, settling in the neighborhood about 20 years ago.

Though not entirely camera shy, they mildly protested at first before allowing me to snap away.  Only one woman adamantly objected, till she took off her apron, then beamed proudly as she showed me the results of her green thumb.

Others soon gathered around me, with much discussion as there possibly could be, given the language barrier.  The men wanted to know how much my camera cost.  Was I with a news paper?   Their suspicions were aroused as they kept asking if I was with the government.  I could sense they were getting increasingly suspicious about my being a government agent.  Dissatisfied with my answers the men turned away, and continued their weeding.

I was taken aback, and was about to leave when one of the women approached me, and proudly showed me her little plot of vegetables.  As the day began to fade, she produced a plastic bag and began filling it with various vegetables.  Soon others brought samples of their bounty,  filling the bag to capacity.  To my surprised they offered me the entire bag of vegetables.  I was so touched by their generosity.

They also gave me food for thought.  Later that evening, as I was savoring fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese, I kept thinking about those extraordinary people.  Unable to speak English, did they ever venture into downtown Denver?  How far did they travel outside of the neighborhood?  I knew of a Ukranian store some distance from the neighborhood, but how did they get to it when I knew most did not have a car.  What did they do during the long winter months when a TV was not useful to them as they did not understand English?

What kept rolling over in my mind was their difficulty in trusting me. In rudimentary English their questions regarding my being a government official struck a nervousness in them that was reminiscent of my travels in Eastern Europe, where no one trusted anyone. They lived in constant fear of being turned in for who knows what imagined offense.

Occasionally as I passed by, instead of rushing home, I stopped and tried to chat as much as the limited language allowed.  In spite of their mistrust of me,  the men eventually began to acknowledge me, tipping their hats, and a few smiled and waved.

I hoped my neighborliness eased their suspicions.  The current political turmoil leaves me uneasy, and thoughts creep into my mind as to how long it will be before the extremists demand their right to intrude upon our personal choices of  ,,,,,,,,the list will be long.


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