The Satisfaction of Weeding

Tony weeds while Kirsten chats with him

Kirstin, our "camp counselor" of the day, chats with Tony

Each spring on a designated day in May, Fetzer staff packs trowels, gloves, hats, sunscreen, shovels, pruning shears, and other essential tools and heads 30 miles south to our public retreat center, GilChrist, for our annual gardening day. 

Nestled in rolling farm country, GilChrist and its 67 acres are tended by five of our beloved colleagues. On May 6, we joined them to spend the bulk of a work day clearing the gardens of leaves and weeds, mulching, and other spring maintenance that we in America's Midwest make a ritual of after each long winter. 

Our day began with a drenching downpour (thanks for the tents, Kirstin!), but after brief announcements and a perfectly selected Wendell Berry poem, the rain stopped. We then set out on the muddy paths accompanied by a symphony of songbirds to tend gardens and plant trees, randomly selecting workmates and tasks, happy to have a new environment in which to work.

I paired up with Carol, our pastry chef, and together we weeded, pruned, and mulched the Hindu garden. From our vantage point we could see Robert trimming grasses and faded daffodil foliage in the Christian garden; Michelle and Nick raking pebbles in the Buddhist garden; and Nathan expertly wrestling weeds in the African garden. At the same time, David was heading up a group planting 100 white pine saplings and Kirstin was with others tending the vegetable garden, a bit of which was already bearing fruit--asparagus! Also on offer for the morning was a yoga session with Ruth, a neighbor; a lovingkindness meditation with our co-worker John; and an option to tour the Hermitage, a nearby retreat center.

At noon we broke for a potluck lunch at long tables outdoors, sheltered by tents from the morning rain and the heightening sun. The conversation was lively, the food delicious, and we were all content to sit for a bit and visit before cleaning up and a diving back into the tasks at hand. As the temperature and humidity climbed, we slowed our pace and worked closer to shaded areas for breaks.

Our afternoon was filled with labor, collegiality, reverence—for nature and each other— and a sense of community and humor, definitely humor. Do not be mistaken, work, whatever the setting, can lend itself to a spectrum of activity from simple satisfaction to meditation to playful jibes—yes, trash talking during chores (that would be Kellen and Tony). GilChrist Gardening Day concluded with our sharing snippets of our day—all rather varied and full of firsts and gratitude and a poem from Mary Oliver to sustain us on the road home. Today I am grateful for yesterday’s toil I feel in my bones and for being able to experience work and my colleagues in new and delightful ways. 

Amy Ferguson is a communication specialist at the Fetzer Institute. A lifelong weeder, she has legendary tales of hunting the dreaded tomato worm.