Children playing and gardening - Grattan School mural

Children playing and gardening – Grattan School mural

8:30 am

Thoroughly watered yesterday morning, the garden soil is soft, giving up the weeds readily. Tossing them in the rolling hopper as I go, I sing an ancient garden work song:

Inch by inch, row by row, going to make this Garden, grow

Merilee, working in her garden across the way, joins in, her lilting soprano harmonizing a third above my alto.

A gaggle of nine and ten year olds passes by on their way to morning chores. I pantomime the song to them, and they join us in the chorus, laughing.

Before they begin their studies today, the children will rake leaves and debris that clog the storm gutters and drains along the curbs.

Village children have plenty of time to play and pursue their dreams in Ordinary. They also learn responsibility from an early age. Everyone, save the tiniest of tots, does one-half to one hour community service six days a week. A playful lot, we make work fun. Making it fun for our children is especially important.

Weeding finished, I pull the hopper to the community compost pile and empty it into the mulcher. Swaying with the rhythm of the well-oiled handle, I turn the gears that spin the cutting blades. It feels good–the symmetry of body and machine–my strong arm wakening the greater power in the inert metals.

The scents of iron and machine oil mingle with the odors of freshly cut greens. The verdant aromas tickle my nose, forcing a sneeze. I breathe deeply. How can anything so delicious be thought garbage!

Over the next few weeks, the coarsely chopped leaves and stems will break down quickly in the compost pile, turning a rich black–best possible food for the garden.

Before I’ve quite finished, Merilee pulls into the compost bay with her hopper. She transfers the weeds to the grinder, and I cut them while we chat.

Pulling the mulcher away from the pile, we sprinkle lime over the top, pour on a quart of manure tea, give a quick toss with pitchforks, and stroll back to our gardens, muscles warm, conversation animated.

Merilee is teaching a sculpting class to the children after their morning chores and is disappointed that her clay is too wet. She had been looking forward to helping the children discover the plasticity of clay.

“Might as well add water and show them how to make soup!” she says.

“Why not give them a life lesson,” I suggest. “You keep workable clay in your studio, right?”

“Of course!” Merilee claps her hands. “I’ll give them each a small piece of malleable clay along with the too-wet clay. We’ll talk a little about clay and water molecules and how they hold together–I have a model of the molecules I made in college–they’ll love it! We’ll play with the wet clay–see whose sculpture collapses first. It will be fun!”

“And they’ll learn how unexpected challenges are gifts in disguise.” I smile.

“Making lemonade!” Merilee shouts over her shoulder as she hurries off to her studio, her long, straight-legged trousers flapping at her ankles.


  1. Phyllis Stimpert · · Reply

    It would be lovely if our education system would work with children in the way these people do, wouldn’t it?


    1. Yes, and I’ve always thought you are that kind of teacher, Phyllis.


  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    Two comments. As I read I was reminded of the quiet seduction of the book “The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You.” Life within a community of mindful, peaceful villagers is very attractive. Also, I felt the sun warm my own muscles as I read, though I sat at my desk. Quite seductive.


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