Just call me Dalai

Habernos from my patio garden this summer. Adding spice to my life in so many ways.

Habernos from my patio garden this summer. Adding spice to my life in so many ways.

Some years back when I still lived in Northern Virginia my closest friend from New York (and best man in my wedding) was coming to DC for a large food show.  He had a posh hotel room in China Town and wanted to catch up, making an evening of it.  I rode the metro in, we met for dinner, walked town and chatted long into the night about life and love.  The next morning my body clock went off well before six and he was a late sleeper.  The previously hashed plan was for me to quietly grab a shower and slip downstairs to the lavish hotel court where breakfast was housed.  I could spend the morning with a cup of coffee and the Washington Post leaving him to his rest.  It was a minute to six when I walked up encouraging them to open.  The tables sat in a large center square that gave an outside feeling as the hotel rooms flanking it stretching up each side for a number of stories before they melted into a glass atrium.  I was well into the paper probably 8-12 pages deep and had people watched dozens of businessmen and politicians wandering through when some oddly dressed lads patted in and sat not far from me.  It’s an international town, DC, so men in red dresses don’t surprise us, thus I went back to my black and white.


Cornus kousa fall fruits showing me just how beautiful being different can look.

Cornus kousa fall fruits showing me just how beautiful being different can look.

Serendipitously, not two minutes later, I turned the page to read a short backstory about the Dalai Lama who was visiting town for a lecture series; a picture of a man in a red dress accompanied it!  He had odd square glasses in the picture and looked just like one of the ‘red dresses’ who sat a few feet away from me.  In my disbelief I scanned the piece further to find where he lectured and then put my iPhone ‘maps app ‘ to work investigating said lecture hall.  And, it was…a block away.  I never asked Dalai (I call him this now that we are so familiar) what his topic was but I wonder if it didn’t include the amazing quote that tripped me up this week.  He was asked once what surprised him most about humanity.  His response was, “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money.  Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.  And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present: the result being that he does not live in the present or the future: he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived”.

I have churned that quote over and over again the last seven days; like an ornery coffee bean escaping the teeth of the grinder I can’t seem to take it in.   It’s not that I expect to create such profound remarks myself but I would at least like to absorb and apply them to my puny life.  After all, the last thing I want for my family or myself is to die not really having lived.  So, how do I not be ‘that guy’? 


Clearly it’s different for each of us, different as we each visit a new stage of life and different depending on the constantly changing world around us.  My simpleness wants to put this into a box.  But we don’t live in a 3-dimensional space, we live in 4-dimensions.  Dalai’s comment ends in a quote but our life doesn’t.  Time is the fourth dimension.  What something looks like today, over time and long past the quotation marks, changes and is completely new.  His observation of human nature poignantly states the problem and clearly avoids a solution, because the solution isn’t the end but it’s the beginning.  It’s a mantra of sorts that we have to take into our every decision; for we can’t make a new a beginning we can only make a new ending.  With that we each make sacrifices.  This is a reality of living on a sinful Earth.  Sacrifices to either, spend time with our kids and shorten work or to to work and shorten family time.  Sacrifices to advance new knowledge or advance other pieces of our wellbeing.  With each decision we make, we must evaluate the sacrifice.  Somehow while weighing these decisions we have to simultaneously read the future, anticipating the results.  But altogether, in spite of the murkiness, it’s quite clear.  The decisions we make on a day-to-day basis must be grounded in achieving the results that aren’t work or labor oriented but life oriented.  Results can’t be measured on a spreadsheet but only in a smile.  Life doesn’t exist to support work but work exists to support life.  Living is the priority.  And, if a sacrifice is ever made it must be to advocate “really having lived”.  How do you really live?

Antiques Made Daily

Time concepts create fascinating perspectives.  I’ve been reminded of this recently when for a treat my family gave me the gift of wondering a bookstore at my leisure with a hand fat with green.  This, one of my favorite pastimes often overwhelms them with tedium.  However, I was given this treat and with my time I lingered the isles with no schedule demands ahead.  Eventually I stumbled across a section labeled ‘New History’.  Now lets be honest history isn’t new.  By definition history is ‘the study of past events’, clearly not new events.  History has happened and will never be new.  Writing about the past, no matter how recent a past, will never be new for it has already happened.  After all Geoffrey Chaucer once said, “Time and tide wait for no man”, clearly not even authors.  This is the point where I pause in my bookstore journey and stretch my mind to figure out what this could possibly mean.  And, to be honest I’m thinking negative, condescending thoughts on the ‘brilliant’ employee who suggested such a section when…I flash back to another moment just like this one.  I pulled up short, stopping my cognitive beat-down of the term New History, remembering a store in Virginia called Antiques Made Daily.


The billboard on Rt. 211 stood out to me every time I passed it.  With jest and jeer I would say, out loud unfortunately, what a joke!  Thinking, this was stuff made to look like antiques maybe, reproductions likely, but not antiques and not possibly made daily.  But then, like in many small towns, I spoke out once to a close friend who notes that his cousin owns the place.  Oops, now I have to hear the explanation.  Antiques Made Daily was a custom furniture craftsman who would scour the countryside looking for fallen down barns and buildings.  He would buy up the rubble and larger timbers of Oak, Walnut etc. that had aged for hundreds of years and re-purpose them into unique beautiful furniture - all old antique wood being developed into pieces of art.  Yep, I was wrong and wrong big time.  Antiques were being made daily and in a way that I completely admired.  My offhanded negativeness flipped into aw and respect.


Time can be explained by math but math doesn’t define time no matter our tendency to do so.  We look at time in terms of measurable, finite explanations.  However time is clearly more perspective than any single numerical definition.  What is mid-life, clearly something on my mind.  Is mid-life 40, 50…60 years old?  Or is mid-life when I drove out of Michigan State University last month with my oldest son, after looking at yet another college.  Or when we stopped at the coffee shop that day for company on our ride home and in looking at the map on our iPhones, sick of such small letters, finally gave in and made the screen-print setting larger.  Or is mid life when we did make the print larger and my wife and I laughed out loud with joy because of the relief we found when being about to read our screens at last.

The summer feels over.  I’m waist deep in class preparations, planning new student tours and cleaning the studio.  Classes’ start in a week and this all comes with just a little sadness.  I’m not ready for summer to be over like I’m not ready for mid-life.  I’m not ready to be done.  But, it’s not or not exactly.  Technically the Gardens were planted in late May and our first harvest was early June.  We have crops that are only now starting to come to fruition and harvest is planned deep into October.  We are truly in the midlife of our Garden.  And, if I dig deep enough for a parable I will note that the Garden in its juvenile weeks was simple and incomplete with very little bounty.  Now at halfway we are digging into the real fruits of the work.  As a matter-a-fact the full harvest from our efforts will come best in the last half of the Garden life.  The work, the building, nurturing and growing have been done and only now will the garden truly be at its full potential - clearly a perspective on time.  Yet it’s so hard not to feel, “How did it get so late so soon?  Its night before its afternoon, December is here before its June, My goodness how the time has flewn.  How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss.

Say my Name.

Landing in LA we made our way directly to the docks in Newport where our borrowed boat awaited.  It was one of my early sailing adventures and my first on the great Pacific.  I was full of childish excitement anticipating a true adventure seldom experienced in modern America.  It would be one of sailing the ocean, visiting islands, seeing new ports, sleeping, cooking and eating aboard.  With great anticipation I remember parking the car, arms full of gear, rounding the building with my close friend and having him say, “She is down there, pointing to a crowded dock…C-21”.  Loading that moment we left in a ‘small craft warning’ for the Isthmus of Catalina Island.  The experience was everything I anticipated.  The wind blew hard as we crashed over long rolling Pacific swells, tops laced with angry white caps, just the two of us battling the wind.  Tucking a reef in at one point, the boat was being pushed to her limit.  Leaving so late in the day we made the mooring field, tucked on the other side of a great white stone called Bird Rock, as the sun set.  Wind and sun burnt to our bones, every muscle aching, but successfully navigating to our evening rest, nestled safely in the lea of the island, some 30 miles from our start…a dashing first day of adventure.  We dined onboard that evening exhausted soon sleeping like the dead.


The next morning still seeping great satisfaction we woke late preparing the tender for a jaunt ashore.  Both desperately needing to wash off the salt-spray from the day before and to get some long anticipated huevos rancheros.  The crusty little café sat ashore overlooking the moorings; I sipped my coffee, nibbled at my breakfast and with heightened pleasure took in the scene.  Picking through the boats, I identified our good steed gently tugging at her rode.  The stern slowly swung into view.  In a second the romance of my adventure was stolen.  I sat stunned, robbed, forlorn.  Such a great ‘first’ across a small piece of sea and exploration of a beautiful desert island instantly taken from me.  For what dawned the transom of our vessel was her name…C-21.  I thought C-21 was the slip number she occupied in Newport.  I only assumed she was named: Carpe Diem or Courageous.  I was too busy in the moment of youthful seamanship to take notice.  But, C-21?  This was no name for a boat.  Boats names are fundamentally important which embody the vessel and owners as a whole, making statements for the larger world.  Polyandrous, Pursuit, Albatross, Flying Cloud, Invader, Tuesday Morning, Honu, these are names of fine ships not C-21!  And for some strange reason this weighed heavily on my experience.  How could I adventure across the ocean in something called C-21?

Early use of the name Garth was Protector, Defender, and more commonly Garden as in the place.  By about the 1700 and 1800’s as the name moved to people it was commonly seen given to the caretakers of gardens and thus was most understood as ‘keeper of the garden’.  I didn’t realize this fact until I was well on my way into the field of Horticulture and quite honestly it still seems a little fantastic.  My wife’s name, Healani, is from the Hawaiian meaning ‘Beautiful Heaven’.  Our own boy’s names were a cognitive workout to gain just the best one.  A name truly can shape the perspective of both the user and the observer.  Name a child Maximus or Xavier and you have built clear expectations for the future.  My brother-in-law has a theory about the name Chris, which has been spot on 90% of the time as to who and how a ‘Chris’ acts.  When driving school buses if a little boy is acting naughty and he doesn’t know his name he yells, “Chris”.  More times than not the child looks up shocked that this strange driver knows his name and sits down embarrassed.  How many people since 1998 have called their little girl Monica?  How many republicans use the name Kennedy?  We use Peter, John, Paul, Abraham, Issac…why not Judas? 

Names must be the one or two words that carry more weight than any other words we use.  My guess is that this is as universal as the emotion of love.  At the Gardens we name our cars.  Gail, my truck, is named after the strongest woman I have ever met in my life, a nurseryman (woman) no surprise.  Our work trucks each have names as well.  Somehow they take on that personality.  We treat them differently and morning directions have a better roll off the tongue, “Take Michelle out to...”.  Plants, not surprising, come with names too.  If you grow eggplant it’s one thing, but if you grow Violet of Florence, wow!  You can grow tomatoes or you can grow Mountain Princess.  And, we do.  We grow over 100 varieties of different names each with a powerfully tacit meaning.  Most of all, they are all lovingly gown by about eight named students with not a Chris amongst them.

Tree of Life.

By Garth Woodruff - Linden, VA.  Fox Meadow Winery. 

By Garth Woodruff - Linden, VA.  Fox Meadow Winery. 

We use the term ‘meaning behind the meaning’ in the design industry.  I’m sure many professions do.  It refers to the difference between what is said and what a customer means.  Certainly if a customer says I want X, and you provide X, when they get upset it can be surprising.  From the start we have to assume a few things:  We don’t always speak the same language as others, they may be hesitant in disclosing the full truth and therefore we must find the meaning of comments which lurk behind the comments themselves.  I’m simple folk and this can get confusing.  I sometimes don’t know if I mean it or they do, or what meaning I remember, or if other peoples meaning is genuine but I’m supposed to be mining for more meaning because they don’t get it or are shy, or if it’s their meaning behind the meaning or my meaning.  For some reason I had one of these moments with myself, rattling indeed, when I sat to write this note to you.  I have been long convinced that with many years of horticultural experience, with lots of theological debates, with a hand full of applicable classes I have clearly identified the fruit from the Tree of Life.

By Garth Woodruff - St. Vincent - First Botanical Garden in the Western Hemisphere.

By Garth Woodruff - St. Vincent - First Botanical Garden in the Western Hemisphere.

With blind Judo-Christian upbringing I jumped to the Internet to glean a few details with hope to fluff the corners of this written thought when I tripped and stumbled running off my tracks.  I began with a clear answer but I couldn’t pin down how I got there.  The Internet didn’t fill corners with interesting nuances but rather, to my shock and horror, added to my blurriness.  Like the Golden Rule apparently every culture that’s seemly walked this good Earth owns a ‘Tree of Life’.  Ancient Iran has the Haoma tree.  Ancient Egypt says it’s the acacia tree.  Armania, Assyria, Baha’l Faith even Buddhism all have trees with a mythical story to boot.  Buddhist’s even give it a botanical name, Ficus religiosa.  China’s tree must be kept a long way from her peasants in a far away land called Berrien Springs, because theirs is a peach tree that only fruits every three thousand years (not kidding).  With fifteen to twenty more noted including: Christianity, Darwinism and American Indians I was profoundly lost.  Pictures note powerful dendritic branching, symbolizing in each culture the beginning of life, the father of humanity or simply a view of God’s love with the gift of eternal life.  This doesn’t even address the tree of Good-and-Evil, her strange and constant neighbor.  Great goodness! 

The one thing we know is that the meaning behind the meaning of these Trees is clearly not just what fruit they bear.  Or, is the one thing we know, the fruit they bear is clearly the meaning?.....Most of my little philosophical musings have a concise agenda where you get what I’m getting at, but this time we may just have to look for the meaning behind the meaning.  That being said, I still have no idea why I decided the Tree of Life was a coffee tree.

Mobility Evolution

December 17, 1903 at 10:35 the Wright brothers flew for the first time in the exceptionally lovely dunes of Kitty Hawk, NC.  A rather weak performance of 120 feet soon septupled after many attempts by the days-end to almost three football fields.  This phenomenon of flight precipitated quite a trend.  Only 17 years earlier the German inventor Karl Benz released the first car into the world, again rather trendy still.  The steam engine became an active people mover in 1698 thanks to Thomas Savery, the Greeks and the Romans.  I rail-travel quite a bit and apparently it all started in about 600BC when those early civilizations began moving loads by hand on such tracks.  Before tracks, human mobility was limited to only three other options.  Domesticated horses with chariots date in burial findings to about 2000BC.  Leaving two of my favorite types of travel:  sailing and walking.  Yes, sailing dates back to 4000BC thanks to the Egyptians.  Between 3000BC and 2000BC sailing had become rather popular in trade both on water and ice.


Walking, dating to the beginning of humanity, instigates my personal research in Sense of Place, for it becomes the catalyst in place connections.  The ability to leave a place of security, family, comfort and beauty, over thousands of years triggered intrinsic needs for finding and securing ourselves back to those connections of security.  Certainly being banned from the Garden of Eden, sent to walk off for food and family, yet to come back for spiritual safety and sacrifice to God, long ago set into our minds the need to be connected with places.  Our first experience of leaving “place” wasn’t so great.  Legs: evil appendages that carry us away from home and out into a dangerous sinful world.  Yet, somehow we have become a rather mobile species, exponentially really.  With each invent of mobility time decreases while the expansion of distance increases.  The Arctic Tern with the longest migration of any species flies 21,750 miles each year.  That’s just about the circumference of the Earth.  I have a friend doing that this week for a funeral in Australia.  Pish-Posh Arctic Tern, says I.


We don’t really recognize it however, the need for, the irony of, or the variations in others applications to mobility[GW1] .  I arrived last Thursday evening in Newport, RI for a weekend of racing sailboats at the annual New York Yacht Club Regatta.  I drove.  Hitting some construction along the way stretched my trip from 12 hours to just over 16.  Oh the ridicule I received.  “You drove”!  “Why”!  “Why didn’t you fly”!  I like long drives, it’s therapeutic, I contemplate, I leave when I want, I don’t wait in lines, etc.  But the shock and horror on the faces of my fellow crew was palpable.  These…the same lads who sailed the boat from Southern Maryland, taking over three days to cover half the distance I covered in 16 hours. 


My crew’s “crazy” is easily applied to our Mobile Farmers Market.  If we delivered fresh vegetables to a posh Chicago community full of soccer moms we would call it: New Urbanism, carbon sensitive, environmentally responsible or simply great marketing – all true.  Deliver it to inner cities or low-income areas and now it’s: Socialism, outreach and welfare – not all true.  More so, what if it where Socialism?  Last week I found myself deep into a few of Jack London’s essays (don’t judge).  He would argue that the converse of socialism is individualism.  Additionally, he would argue that individualism isn’t very pretty.  So, we deliver food.  It’s our niche.  Not so much a social movement, more so innovation.  We started delivering CSA baskets to Berrien County residence’s front doors and talking about health coupled with keeping food local.  We expanded to a Mobile Farmers Market in communities without access to fresh food (USDA Food Deserts).  This year we are offering the CSA baskets to one of those same communities set inside a Food Desert, triggering a pilot study for the State of Michigan.  And it’s exciting!  Resulting research will show if a different food delivery mechanism can be successful in supporting healthy eating throughout communities in the US where local options or human mobility is limited.


Mobility now becomes a matter of opinion, with food mobility having more than one face.  The Student Gardens is simply adding to the variety of options in moving food around the region vs. moving food out of the region.  Which makes me wonder, will I read some day deep at the bottom of the Internet “Andrews University Student Gardens, at 8:00 am on June 12, 2015 changed availability of food with mobility of food, creating the trend we now call….”



Beach Balls

Wee chartreuse ears spiraling from the soil, whisper the beginnings of a spring creation, soon to cast a deep blue-green Hosta flank along our shadowy beds.  Creativity: one of the more difficult feats for humankind, pulled off so easily by nature and demonstrated so brilliantly in the spring of the year.  Sidney Sheldon said, “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God”.  The landscape come March is a great blank paper where for the recent three months we have watched the unfolding of a vast mosaic cast with blankets of colors.  The ebb and flow of nature’s art shifting from early, to mid, to late spring translucently flooding into summer.  What was the Flowering Dogwood in early May is the Kousa Dogwood this week.  Happening so timelessly that we look up in awe, shocked of the surprise blossom that seemingly happened overnight just outside the window.


With great respect do I absorb this creative bubbling up.  Thus, I would nuance Thoreau in that, “The curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient: more beautiful than it is useful: it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used”.  What is beauty if we aren’t to use it, to consume it?  After many months of looking at the blank paper winter offers, I have no choice but use this beauty to drown the demons of long grey days and to bring back the hope of life and the examples of spontaneous creativity that this world offers.

It brings me pause engaging in the outside and it’s ubiquitous display of creativity.  In this most fragrant time of year I find myself slowing just enough to see, to truly see life.  More than the Clematis that now stretches up the trellis outside my front door or the Shrub Roses by my drive that have the most swollen happy buds one could imagine, simply ready to burst.  More then these quasi-planned events I’m paused by the simpleness and spontaneity.  This week I squeezed in a few moments with my graduate assistant (Bennett the Beagle) for a walk on the beach.  With high waters the beach expanse itself has woken this spring to new creations.  Sea-lines closer to sandy cliffs, change the way we normally stroll north out of St. Joseph.  Bennett’s utter fear of water and dash between one of these narrowed beaches almost caused me to rush just a bit too much missing a spring event of ethereal creativity.  Beach balls I called them at first glance.  Flotsam really, trash and weeds at best.  But, for the efforts of our lake, a stiff NW breeze and a tumbling sea we have nature’s orbs.  True beach balls, those that flanked this great Lake Michigan long before even Indians. 

They lined the beach in one of the nine patterns seen in nature, what we call ‘scattered’ in the drafting studio, almost planned yet simply perfect, easy to identify yet so hard to reproduce.  For me to paint this picture on a white sheet would pull too deep on my creative strength while the Landscape does it without thought.  Events such as the beach balls are happening all around us.  The narrows of life rush us, dodging tumultuous seas, and we have to pull against every sinew to slow long enough so that we can absorb, consume…use.  With these first baskets, take that time.  Clean a little dirt off the beets appreciating the creation, chop a little slower, taste a little more what the earth has to offer.


Lights Out - A place sketch by Foster Woodruff

I sail inside my home, door crashing as the starving turmoil of air and rain thrash my family’s small abode.  “Clank, clank,” go the fall decorations, huddled inside the window boxes.  Off goes the beagle’s leash, in perfect compilation with the cascading spring erupting from his soaked fur coat.  Night walk accomplished, the two of us gallop indoors to the no-electricity-atmosphere that awaits us, the threatening storm looming atop.  

Outside the trees slowly moan, harmonizing with the whistling wind that spins, nipping at the cottage walls.  Bickering back, the leaves jump up and rustle around in protest to the disturbing breeze.  Indoors, the candles are lit and the fire crackles away, sending glowing embers up the lofty stone chimney.  Already, resting alongside the hand-crafted fireplace lies the dog.  Dispersed lie his legs, sprawled across the stained wood floor in a whole realm of his own, letting out the occasional snore.  The blankets have been rationed and each individual is burrowed inside their own corner of the age old couch.  Hugged in by the warmth, everyone is in a drugged state, some with book in hand, others completely enveloped by the surrounding comfort, head nodding.

Singing away goes the tea kettle, beckoning for someone to reluctantly pull themselves out of the crisscrossing layers of warmth.  I dash out of the luxury for only a second, dragging along with me a hitchhiking blanket to retrieve the pot from the fire.  Grabbing mugs for the family, I divide the steaming contents and hurry back to the beckoning living room.  I peer out of our large A-frame style windows and gaze upon the pounding storm that thrashes the treetops overhead.  Our old hunting cabin stays strong, and sound, while the torrent of rain and wind bicker outside the walls.  The dark closes in, yet the house is still aglow.  The fireplace continues to be filled by the armful after armful of dry crackling oak that continues to warm the old creaking home.  Slowly the couches are pushed back, and the blankets sent to the floor, where our beds are constructed alongside our one source of heat.  I take first watch in tending to the fire while the rest of my family retreats for the night.  Slowly the wood turns to ash.  Looming overhead is the thought that the treacherous journey outside must be made.  New wood must be gathered to keep my family in their warm slumber.  Quivering I gather my coat, and gloves, slowly edging the cold.  The ink black night consumes me and with heart pounding, I dash down the deck stairs.  Outside the wind whistles and the trees moan.


When I was a boy my dad worked in an office on 16th street in NW Washington DC.  We lived east of town in a sleepy Maryland community close to the Bay.  As a new driver I learned my way in and out of the city via my fathers instructions who traveled those roads so many times that street names had been replaced with muscle memory.  Most directions passed my way in food prose, as I navigated solo for the first time, between errands and work.  “Take 13th street in.  When you cross the Maryland border you’ll see the Jewish deli on the right.  Turn then.  At the donut place…you know the one with the….turn left”.  Mind you these “landmarks” were at best holes in a wall along a busy street of many delis.  However, in my fathers mind only one had that great marble rye, which was exactly where I turned. - Directions by taste.  I think we all have memories triggered by our mouth.  The taste of an inland lake is distinctive for me.  I’ve swallowed many mouths full in open water races, so much so that if I splash into any lake for just one moment, and like my lips, I flash back to races of my youth.  Lake Michigan invokes different flashes, when I move forward on the boat here, and take a wave over the bow splashing water on my lips, I instantly lick them for security and find myself feeling wanting.  It took me almost a year before I realized I missed the brackish and salt water of the East Coast so desperately.  Lips and memories are amazing.

For years my parents needled me with joyous smiles about getting caught under our grapevines.  Laying on my back, in the late summer grass reaching up, plucking at grapes dangling just above my face, fresh from the vine as if in King Solomon’s glory.  Oddly enough I remember that exact moment not realizing they watched from the house.  And, I really did feel I was royalty.  It was exactly this time of year, where we can now drive in the Michigan countryside with the air heavy with the scent of grape.  Harvest started this last Sunday at the Universities vineyard and it’s hard not to drift back in my mind to warm Septembers in Maryland.  But, it’s not just the taste that draws me back.  Nor was it simply the best marble rye.  It was the experience.  Something happens in conjunction with these fleeting moments that ties our minds close to the simpleness of a taste.

Experiences hold power.  My good beagle, Bennett, who trails me to work many days each week, lived a not so pleasant puppy memory.  Soon after we collected him from a retiring hunter in Charlottesville, VA he had an awful run in.  Whilst in the midst of innocently digging up a neighbors yard he came across a hornets nest.  Screaming as if William Wallace, he ran across the lawn for protection, but not before getting stung in the rump a good number of times.  His poor tush healed quickly but not the memories of the experience.  To this day, if any buzzing insect enters his truck or room he turns on defense mode.  Cowering, with his hiney close to a wall or leg, he daftly searches the sky for said insect.  Just last night we watched him literally go to war with a fat fall fly in our living room.  This sleepy, lazy dog turns into a superhero with the slightest sound of a buzzzz. 

In those same Virginia days I ran the Appalachian Trail that lay just a few minutes walk from our home.  My route tracked from South to North before I slipped up a fire trail and headed home.  During the hot days of July the woods offered a cool respite for such adventures.  It also afforded some fine hunting.  Each year about that time droves of ‘through hikers’ were headed from their spring start in Georgia, through Virginia on their way North.  Small gaggles of friends or romantic couples closely mingling together days on end in their own silence, plodding away at the miles of trail.  Every group headed in the same direction never crossing paths for all were going the same way at the same pace…except for the 210 lb. runner that was slipping up behind them unexpected and unannounced.  The first hikers that I came across in those years nearly jumped out of their skin as I bounded mindlessly past them.  Not a word, weeks of quite, and now something was leaping over their backpacks.  I became sensitive to it, realizing from the looks on their faces and the screams that I was taking years off good peoples lives.  So, I started yelling, “on the right!”.  It didn’t help.  I remember one guy pushing his girlfriend into the trail as he leapt deep into the trees.  I never realized that hikers talked just like sailors.  Oddly, this hostel encounter always ended with a smile from the hiker and an expletive on how I scared them.  Ah yes, bears, Appalachian Killers and the runner Garth all going down in infamy.  Talked about around campfires from Linden, VA to Katahdin Maine, I made a simple hike in the woods a real experience.

Nobody would be surprised that we give experiences as gifts here at our home.  When in doubt of gifting opportunities we divert to experiences.  In a world where if we need something we get it, gift getting becomes complex.  What do you get people who honestly have all they need?  As a matter-a-fact most people lament the dust collector gift that will only fill another box in another messy closet.  Lani turned 42 in August.  We have a small house and in no need to fill it with things that we ‘kind of like’ and we honor the power of a good experience.  So, it was something new for 42.  Three laps around the Chicagoland Speedway at over 160 miles an hour in the M&M NASCAR, taking only a few minutes, but the experience will last forever.  Nobody needs to dust it and we don’t have to pack it the next time we move, because it lives in us.  Experiences mark milestones in our lives unlike anything else.

Vegetables are good, they taste good, they make a meal beautiful and they fill our lives with wonderful health.  Local organic vegetables raised by young students working their way through school only add to that excitement.  But arriving at my office where my basket has been dropped off, while I sat in some forlorn meeting, flowers set atop and fruit aside, is an experience.  Bringing them home and picking through the Easter Basket of green and red with my wife every Thursday is an experience.  Eating things that I never knew existed and finding that I was about to miss out on something in life, is an experience.  Our house will be sad this winter without our basket, but a milestone has been marked.  So, if I’m bumped into and asked for directions to someplace in Berrien I hope the receiver doesn’t mind if I say “When you get off campus you’ll see a farm on the left… you know the one with the…they got the best!…turn right.  Then just past the vineyard with those Concords…”.

Harvest Moon

The Red Maples made my heart drop to the bottom of my belly on the way onto campus.  I’ve seen precursors to fall for some time now.  More than a month ago a colleague and I were headed to a lecture in Lansing when we noticed the Sumac on the side of the road beginning to turn.  However, those early birds didn’t take me back as the maples of this morning.  At once I started looking around for the signs that would confirm my surprise.  Sure enough, tucked close to the church walls stand two Flowering Dogwood.  For years the Dogwood has been the catalyst for my fall melancholy.  This morning, for seemingly the first time, they blazed in deep red.  It’s hard to get my hands around the autumnal cycle that runs through my body.  Students came back a few weeks ago, the last Wednesday night sailboat race was this week and the beaches are finally empty in St. Joseph but none of that seemed to wake my inner being to the fact that fall was here and the seasons are changing as did the distinct red of Cornus florida. 

Of course yesterday delivered the first day of fall.  Also known as the fall equinox, which marks the parade of a dozen natural and manmade events.  If you were standing on the North Pole this would be the beginning of six months of dark.  At that same point with the sun loosing its power over your domain you would also apparently see the Arctic ice beginning to freeze again.  Each region embodies a unique fall marker that sets in place change, which humanity has no control over.  Cultures all over the world recognize this with special events.  It sings the end of summers toil in the field, a falls great harvest, and winter preparations yet more often it beckons festivities and romance.  Typically, these celebrations take place on what is known as the Harvest Moon, determined by the full moon that cycles closest to the equinox, September 23 this year.  More typically we see that moon phase in September but October can’t be totally ruled out.

Childish curiosity, AKA OCD, had me counting days on a moon phase chart so that I could determine when to schedule the family evening around our back yard fire pit and a celebratory tip of hot apple cider.  To my surprise…this year’s equinox falls directly between moon phases in our region.  13 days exactly between full moons sets, one in September and one in October.  It took Benjamin Franklin to instate the ancient practice of daylight savings time and it took the George Bush administration to move it.  I need to know who has their hand on this Harvest Moon thing.  If exactly yesterday Arctic ice started freezing than what great phenomenon is happening here?  We straddle time with the full moon holding hostage our need to celebrate change.  Great human events are determined by such things that now seemingly stand still.  If I lived in Eastport, MD I wouldn’t know if I was or wasn’t allowed to wear socks!

We successfully toiled the earth at the gardens this summer.  Our Mobile Farmers Market came to a close last week.  Stephen and I are starting to compile data that will tell the story of a beautiful community outreach.  The last CSA delivery takes place in two weeks.  No more early Thursday mornings, no more collection of flowers, no more fields full of bounty.  The apples are picked and the corn is all gone.  Lani, connecting the dots over the weekend lamented sadly how she will miss the CSA basket. 

Last week in an attempt to plan some celebrations for this hard work, Arthur and I began charting dates to get all the students from this past season back together.  The last CSA goes out Thursday the 9th.  Fall break at Andrews starts on the 10th.  So, we decided that if a crowd was over at my place, staying up too late, grilling some of our own veggies and standing around the fire reminiscing summer antics, than Friday we could all sleep in.  Without consulting the moon phases, in a texting volley late last week, we landed on this evening in October just because it made good sense.  And, only now as I write do I realize that the evening of the 9th is the last day of the full moon.  The last day of any possible Harvest Moon…and we will be celebrating the harvest.

Human life is more connected to nature than we realize.  More importantly, if you stood at the North Pole yesterday and took in the vast scenery and didn’t know the fact that it marked the beginning of Arctic ice freezing it wouldn’t stop the ice.  And, if our calendar straddles the Harvest Moon unable to decide on the proper date, it won’t stop the Dogwood from turning red.  So from my own interpretation of the Earth’s cycles and in the light that President Obama, derelict in his duty, neglected to step up and announced a formal Harvest Moon - I Garth Woodruff, of sound mind, Director of the Andrews Student Gardens, proclaim October 9 the Harvest Moon.  You may all wear socks on Friday after.

Candy Corn & Thanksgiving Music

Thanks Becky St. Clair-

Thanks Becky St. Clair-

I just saw a Facebook post from a friend here at Andrews of a dish full of candy corn.  I’m disgusted.  Frankly I feel candy corn, like Twizzlers, has no room in the sweets world at all unlike the royalty of Smarties and Twix.  Worse yet was the gaggle of likes and happy comments that followed the post of this dish of dry, crumbly colored sugar.  Don’t these people know that candy corn beckons fall and fall beckons winter and winter is slated to be a hot mess?  More so, this innocent dish of pointy dust sets off a domino effect of holidays that bring family stress, over eating and spending too much money. 


Every year I face these occasions with heartache for Thanksgiving, the underdog of the holiday chain.  I’m sure it could rise to the top, even over Christmas, if it could change just one thing in its wardrobe.  Lets face it, if it weren’t for its lack of music we all would like Thanksgiving better.  But, no!  Christmas has religious music and secular music.  It has old carols and new hip-hop.  This fills the stores and stations way to soon, like a hungry inheritor just waiting for Thanksgiving to die.  Even Halloween has music.  Every year I get excited for the sounds of the rhythmic piano from the opening of Warren Zevon’s ‘Werewolves Of London’.  At Christmas, being a big Bing fan I fill the house with 20-50’s big band and jazz.  Every good holiday has music.  How did Thanksgiving get the short stick here?  It doesn’t even have a mascot!  I’m sure that ‘The Santa Clause 3’ with Tim Allen could hedge itself from a dismal 15% on the tomatometer if they had a Thanksgiving character in the battle against Jack Frost at its climax.  Thanksgiving music could play every time she came on the screen and before long we may make it to December 5 or even 10 listening to light hearted riffs about people sick and starving in a hateful northeast winter some few hundred years ago.


I don’t want winter to come.  I love the butternut squash soup my wife made last week from our early fall harvest, but I don’t want winter to come again like last year.  Am I the only one who feels like summer is a few weeks and winter a lifetime?  We just had corn on the cob for our welcome back party at the University.  That’s summer food - Silver Queen corn and tomato sandwiches.  Then in a blink, I’m heating up leftover fall soups for lunch and watching it rain.  I’m sure if I had a nice Thanksgiving CD to play it would lesson the sting.


George Renninger invented candy corn in Philadelphia during the 1880’s so it does have quite a legacy.  And, when I read this opening to my wife some 10 minutes ago she almost jumped out of her seat.  Stopping me cold and giving my Smarties a verbal beat down she shocked me with her love of candy corn.  So, in the light of all things academic I did a little research.  According to Foodspin, who ranked the top 47 Halloween candies, Candy corn, to my great delight, ranked 47th, just under 46th- being hit by a car and 45th- A fistful of hair.  Smarties came in a cool 19th.  Yet in the spirit of our fine farm, who ranked at 38th?  You know it, none other than the Apple (naked). 

Garden Article Sept. 4 - My Garden the Social Paradigm

Having two landscape designers in the same house creates a fascinating dilemma.  After owning a few homes now, with empirical currently, I have noted two consistencies.  First is that we can’t agree on any personal landscape plant or plan.  Secondly is that the ‘shoe makers shoes’ syndrome is simply doubled because there are two of us.  This data results in us being very, very slow to get any yard work done.  So, now that we have lived in our new home over a year, with not a landscape to speak of, we are ready to start placing our first green treasures.  On a kick to incorporate food into my ornamental yard earlier this season (grow food not lawns) I brought home a flat of strawberries to use as a ground cover, which then sat in pots for entirely to long on my front porch.  They did get planted even though my wife didn’t think they would work.  And in the wrong place, because I had preconceived ideas that I chose not to share until it was too late.  So, we moved them and they sat neglected for the rest of the summer in a third home.  A week or so ago we got on a little kick and jump-started some real planting.  Purchasing some Home Depot cast offs at 50% the price we renewed our vows and soon found our selves on the same page.  Plants have started flowing into our landscape.  Emails have gone out to contacts who can acquire this material and we are digging and watering on a regular basis.

I don’t know if this happens to the rest of you.  But, I was watering some of these new babies on Sunday when I found myself lost in extremely deep thought.  Unlike many who, while in one of these silly mindless moments, save the damsel in distress or win the race at the last second, crowd rising up into a massive cheer… I fall into philosopher.  I’m staring down at a wee strawberry “groundcover” and am swept back to an odd morning about a month ago.  I was speaking to a local group about our Mobile Farmers Market.  Sharing the good news of spending money at local farms and stores and then providing that fantastic food, along with education, to a segment of our society who for one reason or another hasn’t the same access or finances to acquire healthy options.  It wasn’t going over very well.  Curmudgeons were shifting in their chairs and starting to look at me as if I were food.  I picked up the tempo and told myself, “this is good stuff, sell it Garth!”  To which I added defining facts like: 

The USA, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, has 4% of its population living on two dollars a day.  That’s about 25% of the population who lives under the poverty level.  It may not seem like a lot but it calculates out to 12, 752,099 people in America living on two dollars a day and over 50 million living in poverty.  American farmers in 2011 sold 153 billion dollars of livestock for food.  Equally, the estimated medical cost of obesity related diseases were 147 billion.  These are noncommunicable disease such as heart disease, stroke, type 2-diabetes and certain cancer (Center of Disease Control and Prevention) that can be preventable through diet.  I added that this is an education and access issue.  The USDA has identified these Food Deserts, the population segments and the barriers creating difficulty for them to eat well and the fact that education and access directly correlate to that 147 billion dollar price tag on obesity.  I assured them that our program is combatting these same issues with wisely placed government money.  We make it ease for a ‘bridge card’ (food stamps) user to be able to make decisions about their heath.  They needn’t buy bagged chips from the corner store when they can use the bridge card at our stand, which sells fresh local fruits and vegitables.

“This sounds like Socialism” smirks one listener close by.  Nope it wasn’t looking good for me.  I had to think fast.  “Do I run?  Are they really going to through me into the St. Joe River and kill me if I can swim?”  For a split second I was wondering if I would taste okay with syrup or if they would just eat me raw.  So, to my rebut I dropped the stats and employed common sense.  “A raising tide floats all boats”, I say.  Little at the time did I realize that was a JFK quote.  No wonder the man closest to me snapped his head so hard he had to adjust his toupee.  “If we support the segments of our local society with local products many things happen,” I say.  “Healthy people are healthy workers, they contribute back to the tax base.  When you spend a dolor locally it statistically gets spent seven more times in the same community.  We are selling local food that’s supporting the local farmer.  In-turn groups who need the help are put on the mend to later contribute back to our community”.  They weren’t’ biting. 

So, while I watered my strawberries I pondered.  This strawberry was neglected for the last 3 months.  In the last two weeks we added competition all around it with new plants; nutrients are being stolen, sun is being choked out and more.  But they look better then ever!  Because all this competition was also bringing in benefit.  We never watered our plants over the summer.  We didn’t give them any attention at all.  Now, because the competition everything was getting water.  When life get better for those around us in one way or another life gets better for us all. 

My strawberries were a perfect example of how and why feeding those who don’t have access to food will in some way come around to benefit the community as a whole.  Of the 1,484,343 Michiganders now living under the poverty level, scrapping to feed the children they dearly love, the chance to buy healthy food vs. packaged products is a game changer.  Who can honestly argue with that? And how can this not benefit us all in the long run?

17-Year Parent

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven:

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time to uproot,

Ecclesiastes 3:1&2


The note in my bible regarding meaning behind these verses, which starts a long list of polar events we end up accepting, liking or not, says, “Humans have no control over times and changes.”  I wonder what theologian felt the need to twist that knife?  My oldest son is 16 and my youngest will turn 13 this week.  In five years we are an empty-nest and it’s starting to enter my dreams.  It began as soft, gentle anxiety about a looming future where my best friends chose to move on.  Then it gets closer, time slips even faster, and I begin to see the sad end of what’s been a marvelous run.  Quite honestly it freaks me out.  I’ve worked so hard to develop independent, intelligent children, and my reward for a job well done is they become intelligent and independent!  What?!


The last week has been a whirlwind of students and parents all ascending upon the campus like the dawn of the 17-year cicada.  We know they are coming, we start to hear the buzz, and then one day a large eyed frozen figure is stuck to my office door.  What is it we ask, a cicada? Or a student…nope, it’s a parent.” They peel themselves off and put on a happy face with the first handshake.  But soon I start to hear the stories.  Full of good intentions and desires to help this poor drooling child get established; they are willing to do anything.  They fly across the country, many times over.  They drive ungodly miles and write ungodly checks, the whole time supporting their worst nightmare, with a tear in their eye.  Then they look across my desk and say, “You…you understand.”  I want to start weeping openly, wailing like a Peanuts cartoon mouth in a perfect circle, wide and facing the heavens. 


I’m no theologian, but I wonder if when translated from the Greek, verse two shouldn’t actually read, a time to uproot and a time to plant.  Sure, knowing that I have no control over time, and change will take place no matter my kicking and crying doesn’t exactly make me feel great.  However, change for no reason, other then change, makes no sense.  Why relent and move your child to this big scary place if only for the change.  Let’s face it: we want growth because of the change.  We want progress; good, positive, forward movement.  The horticulturist in me wants this bible verse flipped around.  Because I know about seasons and what planting a seed is like.  It first sprouts tender cotyledons; soon true leaves begin to grow.  We water and fuss over the babies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  They grow; they become stronger and need less attention.  Soon they are pot-bound and our friendly little environment is too suffocating.  It’s time to plant them out into the real world.  But before we do that we strip them from their pots, pulling apart the roots, ripping and tearing along the way.  Then, and only then, are they ready for a proper planting. This is where they will grow, prosper, and make fruits of their own. 

They must be uprooted before we plant them.  They can’t stay in the sheltered greenhouse forever. Damage to those tender roots is critical in being able to continue a healthy new life in a new world.  However, I’ve never seen one of our students, who painstakingly raised these baby plants, standing in my greenhouse looking like Sally Brown, mouth open to the sky.  Why do my 17-year big-eyed frozen parents?  And why, when I myself am comfortable with the seasons, see myself doing the same?

Down-dog, Devils in my head and Golf.

This is a two part article that was published in the AU Gardens Newsletter the last two weeks.

Part 1

Friday evening after a long week Lani and I were invited to a sunset cruise with some close friends in St. Joseph.  The knee jerk reaction after an over stuffed week was, No, lets just stay in and go to bed early”.  However, the weather was just perfect.  It was going to be simply the four of us and a quiet evening on the Lake is never a bad idea.  The game changer was my comment, “I’m always talking about connecting to nature.  We have a chance to stay in or go out.  Outs, got to be the answer”.  As my weekend progressed I had this thought constantly in the back of my mind.  At every turn I was trying not to be the hypocrite who talks, but won’t do. 

            Saturday morning we got up and went to beach yoga with this on my mind.  I envisioned restorative, relaxing time stretching my body out.  Half way in when I was sweating bullets and was taking “breaks” in the plank or down dog-position I realized how wrong I was.  Sand sticking to every inch of my OCD shaking body and heavy breathing in a line of 40-50 year old women with 8% body fat wasn’t exactly my idea of restorative Saturday morning beach time.  So, in the afternoon my oldest boy was ready for our long run, I again made plans for rebuilding myself.  We could find a trail or quiet scenic spot, take an easy pace and use the time to contemplate and enjoy the outside spending quality time together.  However, he has a new watch!  Mile one, “Beep…a little over nine dad we need to pick this up”.  Mile two, “Beep, just under nine dad.  Its ok but build.”  Mile three 8.75, mile four 8.5, 8.25…..  By the last mile of this long “relaxing” run I had snot streaming down my cheek and I was running like I stole something.  “In the sevens dad lets finish strong”. 

Sunday I was convinced.  I would get my outside time in, but it would be relaxing!  By happenstance all other exercisers in my home had already made plans for the day.  Each had a different goal and I was left with a nice leisurely bike alone.  My favorite.  I plugged in my ear buds, pulled out of our road and set to it.  Now one of my greatest joys is to race, cars through town.  St. Joe was over crowded with weekend events, I wanted to get out into the open countryside and I started to really lay into it.  Cars who had just pulled up to a stoplight in front of me began to move again with a green as I approached.  My speed moved up, 15,16,17…When to my great surprise some nice out of town lady noticed a yarn shop to her right and made a last minute decision.  I was a car length away in my aero bars pedaling as hard as I could.  I pulled a right hand back to the brake, my tire locked up, my mouth went from cyclist to sailor in 1.3 seconds and - With feet still clipped into my charge and an arm leaning on an aero bar I was launched into the air.  Perfect form, first my head, then a slightly arching back and a firmly clinched tail to follow.  I flew like the first high jumper vaulting backward over the trunk of this car…Pause story here.


Part 2


Resume story here…My speed moved up, 15,16,17 mph…When to my great surprise some nice out of town lady noticed a yarn shop to her right and made a last minute decision turning right in front of me.  I was a car length away in my aero bars pedaling as hard as I could.  I pulled a right hand back to the brake, my tire locked up, my mouth went from cyclist to sailor in 1.3 seconds and - with feet still clipped into my charge and an arm leaning on an aero bar I was launched into the air.  Perfect form, first my head, then a slightly arching back and a firmly clinched tail to follow.  I flew like the first high jumper vaulting backward over the trunk of this car.

I was supposed to be connecting to nature.  I wasn’t racing anyone.  A little exercise, some fresh air and some time to sort out life in my head.  Yet, in my head lives a little devil.  I was informed of this about two years ago when an older, very athletic friend stood in front of my tread mill at the Y and asked why I was working so hard.  Are you still training for events?  “No, I say.  I’m setting that aside while I focus on school and my new job.  I can’t push myself in so many places it’s wearing me out.  So, I’m just going to use these times to restore”.  He smiled as many with years of wisdom do, “It’s the devil in your head chasing you.  You’re racing yourself.  Don’t race the devil, Garth”.  So, as I’m hovering in mid air over the trunk of this car I have only a few seconds to sort it all out.  The devil is gone at this point because he got what he wanted as soon as my front tire made contact with the quarter panel.  My mind is clear, the whole world paused around me and my life did not pass before my eyes.  What passed before my eyes were six simple words, “Its time to take up golf”.

I landed in the middle of the intersection exactly like a high jumper on my tail, head and feet high in the air, but without that big puffy pad.  I don’t really remember that part, but I’m sure my form was excellent.  What I do remember is standing up and instinctively knowing my sunglasses, now in three pieces, needed to be picked up and that my bike, thank goodness, had come unclipped from my shoes.  The kind folk driving behind this car I collided with had stopped, jumping out of their car with eyes the size of saucers and worried to death.  I composed myself, got back on my bike, headed for South Haven and took the next two hours unpacking what an idiot I am.  There is a vast delta between connecting with nature and colliding with nature.  All things in moderation seemed to have slipped from my focus.  A few weeks back I wrote on the meaning of life.  I never noted the take home of my satire as I went from caring for others to the number 42.  But in my own mind as I processed all those life perspectives I decided for myself this meaning.  It was balance.  Take care of others yet be mindful of your own needs and progress.  Be serious but remember 42.

In those two hours to South Haven and back as I pieced together my own clear doing in the recent trip through the air I realized my error.  The bike ride was great but I needed balance.  Connecting to nature was fantastic but it needed balance.  And, somehow along the way I allowed my own drive (little devil) to usurp balance.  Note to self and friends who share my problem - Please connect to nature on a daily basis.  Insidedness is consuming our children and contributing to the obesity rate in America being 1/3 of the population.  But killing yourself in an attempt to live forever isn’t very productive.  Its still summer, so eat some ice cream once in a while.

Ash Breeze

 Pop is a very ugly word.  Like moist and spotty I think it may need to be stricken from the English language.  Moving and more regular travel over that last few years floated many of these words, phrases and regional differences to the surface.  In Virginia ‘Hun’ is a term for all people and ‘soda’ describes the flock of drinks such as Coke, Sprite, Root Beer, etc.  In Michigan ‘Guy’ is the term for all people and soda is what you mix with Vodka, a bubbly water of sorts.  My youngest asked what kind of soda a local restaurant had his first evening here a few years back, to which was returned a very confused look from the waitress.  I gently pulled him aside and explained, “They call it pop here…guy.”  The North East calls a sub  (short for submarine sandwich) a Grinder.  I can’t imagine what I would do if we had a Quebec in this country!

In my first month here at Andrews I was with a student who overlooked a small team in the fields.  I wanted a task completed quickly and efficiently and said, “You need to ‘break bad’ on this.”  In return I received a long blank look.  Later I said he had ‘too many irons in the fire’ and received the same blank look.  A month back a strapping twenty something was relaying recent happenings that occurred, “Just after the turn of the century.”  I found myself, saying nothing and staring at him with a blank look now on my own face.  How could this event happen recently and yet just after the turn of the century?  Oh!  My turn of the century was 1800 to 1900.  His turn of the century was Y2K when I stayed up late to see if my computer really would crash.  Yes, the blank look takes no sides.

It was yesterday when I slipped into the field where a handful of folk toiled away.  The gardens were especially clean and they had caught my eye as I drove passed.  I simply wanted the OCD in me to have the pleasure of sharing that joy.  Cesar, an architecture student here on campus, was pulling weeds by hand from a long, long row.  “Cesar,” I say, “This place is looking shipshape!”  To which he replied… after a long blank look… “I hope that means something good?”  Well it did and it got me thinking about all of these phrases we use and our gardens.

Nathanial Bowditch is one of the most famous American sea captains and navigators who lived around the turn of the century (1773-1838).  He made himself famous with his math skills and developed new ways to calculate sextant readings that significantly changed the course of navigating for seaman world over.  A book, inches thick, is still one of the staples for sea going people today and is simply called Bowditch.  Captain Bowditch didn’t have the easiest life, loosing a wife early, as seemed all too common in those days, and he eventually coined the phrase ‘Ash breeze’.

Screenshot of my phone.

Screenshot of my phone.

When sailboats in those days ran out of wind, or wind was simply against them, they sat useless and dead in the water - just as many of us feel during windless times in life.  Those large heavy ships in the need to make forward progress would pull out long oars on which men would set to the miserable task of rowing.  No choice, slow, unhappy, uneasy- forward progress.  Nobody was happy but it was what needed to happen.  These oars where often made of Ash trees (Fraxinus americana).  And, it was those Ash trees that ‘made’ the breeze for the heavy ships in hard times.

However, Bowditch didn’t coin this phrase as a sailing term, but as a life term.  For when he came to hard times, when he felt no wind in life and had to just ‘pick himself up by his bootstraps’, he called it ash breeze.  When he had to leave family for long periods or struggle emotionally through tough life events he didn’t lay around whimpering.  He moved himself forward by Ash breeze.  It’s what we do when where we want to go isn’t easy.  Sometimes places we need to be aren’t easily reachable with the wind we have, and all we are left with is Ash breeze.

Cesar was keeping our garden shipshape, clean, healthy and happy this week by Ash breeze.  Organic gardens in this country overall are nurtured by Ash breeze.  Good health in general is managed by Ash breeze.  It would be easier to drive down a row of tomatoes with a boom filled with spray to combat the problems.  But, we are beginning to understand the results of that and it’s not the course we wish to set for our personal or earth’s health.  Food from a box would be easy but we muster some Ash breeze and chop veggies.  So, when you’re home late from work this week and don’t want to spend the time in the kitchen and wonder what it will take to pull it together.  We have a phrase for what you will do…Ash breeze.

Legacy - from the AU Gardens Newsletter

Maryland tomato sandwiches at work.

Maryland tomato sandwiches at work.

Through my late teens and early twenties my dad owned a small business in Washington DC where I spent much of my time.  I was learning the family trade of Opticianery, which culminated into enjoying the benefits of a well-paid job while in the last years of college.  As the memories of those moments fade, and the skill of spinning lenses on a large stone wheel is long gone from my fingers I still remember back to one specific lunch we had together in the basement of that old rowhouse on 16th st.  We had gathered a long loaf of French bread and a jar of mayo on the way in that morning.  With this and a full bag of garden tomatoes we sat together in the back corner where my sister did books and made our lunch.  I have mentioned before he was an avid gardener and is still a lover of harvesting his own food for dinner, and that day with great joy and excitement he showed me how to make a proper Maryland tomato sandwich created from our own bounty.  Last week I did the same here in my studio full of summer teaching mess, my two boys and tomatoes from our Student Gardens.  I think I spent about four dollars on the bread and spread yet we eat like kings and the tradition now lives on.

Two weeks back with Foster, one of these same boys, I captained a sailboat for a man from Denver who had a family home in Northport, MI.  We left South Haven in his new boat at two on a Friday, I know bad luck, but the trip turned out fantastic.  This was Fosters first paid delivery as crew.  We were both a little apprehensive.  He did fantastically, learned tons of new skills, battled through a bit of a storm with bold confidence and was able to see sights and towns never explored before.  He held a midnight watch, went up the mast a few times for repairs and was cook and KP.  When we finished the trip Monday evening we sailed up to the owner’s family compound and grabbed the personal mooring a few hundred yards from his dock.  We spent the evening and night with this family so grateful for a legacy left behind by the parents now long gone.  The sense of pride for this home and the beautiful escape that was already being shared with many generations was palpable.

Foster trimming spinnaker on our last delivery.

Foster trimming spinnaker on our last delivery.

My wife picked us up in Leland the next day; we slowly made our way back south where we all went back to work.  Later that same week she was involved on a landscape design project that by happenstance was a recently bought home of an old customer of mine.  The home was originally built on Lake Michigan about 20 years ago when I first designed it.  She asked about plat maps and plans to help her get started to which they produced original blueprints of my now long faded design.  The first owner had saved these and passed them on with the sale of the home.  It was a shocking honor to think that my work had been respected for such a long time and still carried meaning.

Hudson as an early landscaper inspecting a footer.

Hudson as an early landscaper inspecting a footer.

These events have added fuel to a deep pondering that I find myself often lost in these days.  I needn’t use this article as my therapy, but I find it an interesting conversation.  When I turned the 40 mark a few years back I looked for my midlife crisis.  It’s taken me some time to recognize it, because it’s not fast cars or bad haircuts.  It is my legacy.  I’m not privileged to pass on a family estate and I didn’t stay in the optical business to pass on a generational organization that my dad would have gladly mentored me in.  As a mater-a-fact, my youngest son always said he wanted to be a landscaper, to which I returned the honor by selling my two-decade-old business just last summer.  To say the least he wasn’t real pleased.  Now, with no business, large home or coffers full of money I’m in a little state of midlife panic.  Times running out to set these in place and society would view me as taking steps backward not forward.  I have a great deal of honor for the generations before me and unbridled love for the generations my wife and I now raise.  And, the inner voice in me doesn’t want to listen to Webster when legacy gets defined as emotions like, “He left his children a legacy of love and respect”.

So, I wonder.  Is a legacy of sailing skills, which develop emotional intelligence, artistic abilities or the support of a child to follow their own dreams enough?  I work for the University, in the department, that my degree is issued from.  What is the legacy we leave here?  How is a little garden really impacting our community and the students?  We have good intentions, but I’m from private industry, good intentions are little without results.  Is our mobile farmers market creating progressive conversations behind the doors of those who live in these food deserts?  Will our practices with the land bestowed to our management leave viable soil?  In two more decades when I look back on this next chapter what will be the corporate legacy left.  Most of all, will my grandchildren eat Maryland tomato sandwiches from the garden?

Point of View - from the AU Gardens Newsletter

Point of View

Lani is an amazing designer.  Suddenly I’m not the only one who feels this way and it’s keeping her quite busy.  From time to time she smiles across our partners table and generously slips me a project just so I can keep myself fresh, exercise my creativity, and too kindly stroke my fragile ego.  This last Sunday I sat in the dining room of a client’s house waiting for her to reappear from deep within her office to produce some pictures, when I was able to pause and enjoy her space from the inside.  Large glass windows spanned the back of the home looking out over a slight rise that leads to a lovely Berrien wood.  To be honest I was a little jealous.  Every home that we have lived in over the last 10 plus years have had a great-room setting with large windows that take in a majestic outside.  Our home in Virginia sits atop Blue Mountain; the front door stands at ground level, but in the back, where our 15’ tall A-frame windows face, it sits easily 10’ from the woodland floor.  More than once we’ve had guests walk in and say, “Wow, I feel like I’m in a tree house”.  Our first layover home in St. Joseph had large windows that looked out over the St. Joseph River. We spent hours idling away our day, watching boaters get stuck in the shallow river, or the Coast Guard ticketing sunburned weekenders. 

Our home now lacks just that element and I’m finding it difficult to adjust.  Claustrophobia and insidedness plague our every evening in contrast to sunsets or leaves blowing in the breeze.  I have become so conscious of my views, that during a recent office move, I arranged my entire space with the desk at a catawampus angle just so I could see out of the studio windows to watch the weather.  Everything ergonomically was wrong; my monitor was on the wrong side, I was crammed in a corner, and life was miserable.  But I could see outside a window!  Today in a cold sweat, hands shaking, I found myself fed up.  Kinked neck from looking at my monitor crooked, I jumped up, toppling my laptop and spilling coffee, in a frenzy to move my desk to a reasonable spot.  With great relief I sat a few moments later, easily in reach of everything and my monitor now in front of me, but staring at a sad white concrete wall.  Now, 12 hours hence, I find myself clicking away on my keyboard in a much bargained-for window seat of an Amtrak train.  It’s sunset and the Midwest sky is so large, animated and three-dimensional, that I forget for a minute that I’m on a train.  Large puffy white clouds, indicative of a sky after a front pushes through, individually round out as though they demand center stage, back lit by the sun, as to say, “Look at me”.

Before long I know that I’ll have to read myself to sleep.  A few months back I had my boys, flush with Christmas iTunes money, load a long desired book on my iPad for me.  It’s by Rudolf Steiner and it addresses the topic of spiritual ecology.  I don’t have the patience for many books like this in my life.  But, it fits the iPad purpose perfectly.  I can only read about a page before I have to spend a week digesting it.  Then after processing the very complex issues and deciding if or how they fit into my life and beliefs, I allow myself to continue with another paragraph or two.  I’m tactile, and I usually like a real book that I can wrinkle, spill stuff on, highlight, and fold down pages in the evening when I’m ready to set it back on the nightstand.  My iPad book on the other hand is there in a pinch.  And a week ago when I touched it last, with only a few minutes between meetings, it was expostulating on theories in the senses from Goethe, specifically the three different modes of experiencing our senses.  His first mode is what we do consciously with our senses.  For instance, we simply see the clouds as they bob past the train window.  The second is the impression they make on us: do we like them, are they disgusting, are we sympathetic about them?  Most of the time I don’t think about stage two.  And if some of us do consciously think of stage two, none of us think about stage three; the knowledge that we “acquire about the objects as they reveal to us the secrets of what they are and how they work”.  These stages are often equated to body, soul, and spirit.

Take it or leave it, it’s fascinating.  How many times have I sat gazing out my Virginia windows soaking in the two young Hickory trees and thought about where they came from, who planted them, why I liked them, and more importantly, what they can reveal to me about what they are.  Long after I’m gone, these two trees will stand strong and tall over a family possibly like mine.  They shelter the deck from the sun, generate a warm cozy feeling to a living space, and create a sense of living outside in a future society who will likely be even more insided.  Pausing for a moment and consciously acknowledging the feelings beyond what I hear, taste, smell, touch, or see; helps me better appreciate simple thing.

I guess I don’t need to read myself to sleep after all.  I have clouds to figure out. 

September 14 -from the AU Gardens Newsletter



“And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”. -Francis Scott Key from The Star-Spangled Banner. 


I was at the University of Maryland in the early nineties and just beginning my journey in Landscape Architecture.  The professor of my first studio class was a well-known Architect out of Fredrick Maryland.  The final project was a live client from his firm, the Mount Olivet Cemetery.  A seemingly easy project, however much tougher than one would think.  The original design was ornate and curvy.  As if a bird dropped a series of paisleys on the earth, molding them into the hillsides yet allowing the roads to function in a reasonable way, giving access to each site.  It was a small wooded park-like setting and our goal was to form an adjacent barren cornfield into a complimentary rolling antique with function. 


You may well be putting the pieces of the design of a cemetery and September 14 together at this point.  Mount Olivet Cemetery is the resting place of Francis Scott Key, a historic Frederick resident.  And on the morning of September 14 Key sat in a British ship awaiting, dawn to expose a beaten Baltimore.  He had successfully negotiated the release of a Washington colleague onboard a British vessel on the 13th, but having then the information about the upcoming bombardment was commanded to stay until they were done destroying Fort McHenry.  When dawn wicked over the Chesapeake the tattered stars and stripes still flew above the fort.  The British themselves were shocked to not see the Union Jack and soon gave up.  Key’s pride in America and the emotional events of watching from afar without the ability to even warn spawned his penning the poem - The Star-Spangled Banner, which now is our national anthem. 

photo by ;  Garth Woodruff

photo by ;  Garth Woodruff


Over the next week this song, along with countless fireworks, demonstrating the bombs bursting in air, will blanket each town in America.  The “Red, White and Blue” is already being hung from front porches and town halls that often are bare.  We will all celebrate our freedom and our brave with the color of summer and fireworks in the sky.  I see it everywhere.  My oatmeal this morning had fresh strawberries and blueberries on it.  It was a bowl of red, white and blue.  I collect a basket of food from the farm just as many of you.  And it sits on my counter like a bouquet of fireworks.


The rainbow diet isn’t truly a diet but an ism for eating.  The notion is that the more diverse and colorful a plate of food the broader the spectrum of healthy components.  It’s a simple way to provide your body with what it needs without being a chemist.  The processing of food has deleted it of color.  Our progress to a white diet has second handedly stolen both the beauty and function the earth has to share.  Nothing excites Lani and I more than a colorful plate of food.  It feeds us in all ways healthy.  Frances Lappe’ wrote, “The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth”.  So this week as you connect and celebrate do so with color.



Red Square - Moscow

Red Square - Moscow

I think May skipped me this year.  It started with the end of the semester and a busy graduation weekend.  After a few days of catching my breath and turning in grades I spent 10 days traveling the east coast visiting highs schools that had agriculture programs.  Speaking for the morning and then moving to the next resulted in a harried agenda, so soon after the university semester.  I was home for only a few days when I dashed to Russia for a visit with a sister university to discuss an edited MOU and to spend time with students who wanted to join my landscape design program here at Andrews.  In all the haste of the month I found myself on its last day the 31st, a Sabbath, alone in my room at this Russian university taking what felt like my first day off since graduation on the 5th.

My wife had snuck a card in my bag when she was dropping me at the airport that said, “don’t open until your birthday”.  So, on the 31st I sat alone in my Russian window opening the card from my wife to celebrate my 42nd birthday.  Fairly insignificant for sure, just a simple break from the week to rest and contemplate life.  However, 42 needn’t be swept under the rug!  After all it’s the meaning of life. 

Douglas Adams who wrote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy declared 42 the meaning of life.  All be it satire it seems to be putting a little pressure on the next 12 months for me as this may well be my chance to figure out the meaning of life and 42.  Anybody famous seems to have a definition for the meaning of life.  James Taylor did a little better job than Adams when he wrote the lyrics “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time”.  For many years this ranked at the top of my ‘meaning of life’ list. 

When you search quotes for the meaning of life they seem to be divided into two general themes:  now and later.  JT obviously would be listed with the now’s, along with the happiness, being quiet, adventure and doing things for others.  This weekend in yet another hotel room my wife snuck me a card once more.  This one was for Father’s Day and this time I was actually with my family.  On it a quote from Nelson Henderson read, “The meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”.  Obviously this is in the ‘later’ category for meanings of life as it’s doing something that impacts the future, like treating the earth as visitors or building for the future.  Planting a tree takes ‘paying it forward’ to a whole new level.  Most Oak trees take 20 years before they even produce acorns.  It’s a lifetime before they function on the human scale and their true impact is most likely seen only in the next generation and beyond.  I assure you I have planted my share of oak trees.  The smallest were re-establishing a wetland for the National Park Service and the largest were three trees that came on three separate semi trucks which then got planted with track loaders for an older man long on money and short on time.  Most of these trees I planted for the now as I made my living doing so, but I reaped the philosophical reward none-the-less.  I take pride in what this earth will be like from the trees I’ve planted, the shade that will be basked in or the fruit that will be harvested.

Maybe Henderson was onto something with his meaning of life?  Thomas Jefferson once noted that, “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it’s culture”.  So then if this is the meaning of life what’s up with 42?

Following the Blinking Blue Dot on the Blue Line of Life.

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains.  You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow.  They smelled of moss in your hand.  Polished and muscular and torsional.  On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming.  Maps and mazes.  Of a thing which could not be put back.  Not be made right again.  In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” - Cormac McCarthy

My map for tomorrow-

My map for tomorrow-

We craft our own maps, often forging them from simple dreams at our left or empirical confirmation to our right.  Either way the map seems simply a speculation of a premonition for the future that only in hindsight can be truly confirmed.  I have been traveling the east coast with a colleague speaking to high schools, which have an active agriculture program of one shape or another in place.  Each day we rise early for the short lectures and round tables.  By three or four we slip away and chart our next course.  My iPhone acts as our 21st century map.  The legs of our journey have ranged from a few hours to a full days drive.  I have humbly taken on the persona of a blinking blue dot and have been religiously following the blue line set before me.

Our greenhouse with tomatoes getting ready.

Our greenhouse with tomatoes getting ready.

However, no matter my focus I find myself getting off course.  295 takes me around a city faster than 95 and I lazily add 5 minutes to my journey by not sticking to my blue line and missing the bypass.  At the beginning of the day it’s so clear.   We have a plan, we have a destination, some basic goals and off we charge.  By lunch we hit a little traffic, we dodge poorly marked exits and we stop for gas.  No matter our effort we have added a few miles and time to our plan before it’s all over.  This clean map that in the morning spells out three options, the exact millage and time expected - in hind site looks quite different and much more clear.

Arthur and the garden team spent countless hours this winter drafting a map for the season.  We have added components that were only hopes that now are coming to reality, like our Mobile Farmers Market delivering food to USDA identified food deserts.  We have debated systems from our last few years that can be made better so that we produce the best produce with the assets we have and incessantly argued sustainable practices that need constant dialogue so that we make the smallest mark with our carbon footprint. The Student Gardens has a map in place.  It comes in the form of a business plan, succession-planting spreadsheets, labor training systems and more.  We have numbers that paint the picture of our business topography and a blue line to guide us.  Yet, not a week into the season after the peaches have been thoughtfully pruned do we realize the winter was just too cold for them.  And, for the second time in my short tenure that crop has failed. 

Students at Riverview Memorial School students showing off their greenhouse while on our tour.

Students at Riverview Memorial School students showing off their greenhouse while on our tour.

But, we will survive because part of our mapping as a program is to not isolate our efforts into one single crop but to diversify our assets so that students gain a broader learning of plants and to build room for environmental struggles such as these.  This is why we map.  Reif Larsen wrote. “A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected”.  Our garden is formulating the meaning of education and health and bridging that knowledge to students and community.  It understood the meaning and benefits for crop diversity long before I arrived and set that plan in action.

From time to time our gardens blinking blue dot may not follow the clear line we set before it.  We will hit some bumps in the road and need to stop for gas.  We may miss an exit here and there.  Every time we are ready to get back on the road we will check our map.  We glance from time to time at our plan while traveling and although we may finish the season not quite how we expected, we will still have accomplished our goals.  We will bridge the “here” in starting our Mobile Farmers Market to the “there” with accomplishing our Mobile Farmers Market.  We will go from wanting to serve our community good produce to having done so, and from wanting to satisfy to satisfaction.  This will all be possible because we mapped it from the start then put the plan to action.  Amelia Earhart said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it”. 

Over a hundred varieties have been started in the greenhouse.  Many are in the fields.  Our greenhouses have tomatoes already in flower and growing up a string.  The maps of January and February are plans for today.  Here we are CSA members.  Please put your seat backs up, your food trays away and stow all extra baggage.  Because the season is taxing for take off…and we will do it.

Jensen - Siftings

Silhouetted against the blue sky of his native Lake Michigan.

Silhouetted against the blue sky of his native Lake Michigan.

It’s been a longer winter then normal.  For myself longer because of the weather, our change in latitude and certainly my academic pursuits.  I have spent most of my time writing for work, research and grades not for my own pleasure as is here.  All comes to an end this month, both the winter I hope and as it looks my research.  This morning for the first time in many I was at liberty to read for my own enjoyment and now maybe a little writing as well.  In the course of the day we decided to trot off to the great dunes of Southwest Michigan and take in a little hiking, where I ran across this fine pin oak (Quercus palustris).  Weathered by the lake winds, standing strong in the sandy native soil and set against a crystal blue sky it marked the tone of my morning read.  The connection in one day prompted me to share.

"He speaks of the past, and he speaks of the tomorrow because his offspring will cary his memory into the distant future."  Like three generations of a name sake stand in a family photo so does my pin oak and his line.

"He speaks of the past, and he speaks of the tomorrow because his offspring will cary his memory into the distant future."  Like three generations of a name sake stand in a family photo so does my pin oak and his line.

“The old tree down the lane, the old oak tree touched by the storms and fires of many ages, with roots deep in the native soil, has a message to tell.  He has listened to the tramping feet of the Indians on their war path, to the pioneers in search of gain; he has listened to the cradle song of Indian squaws and to the cry of little children of the pioneers.  He is now old, but beautiful in mature age.  He speaks of the past, and he speaks of the tomorrow because his offspring will carry his memory into the distant future.  In his old age he still sings the song of spring, life resurrected, jubilant and beautiful, with golden tassels in his hair silhouetted against the blue sky of his native land.  Like a landmark he looms over the edge of the prairie, casting a radiant light on his environment.  And when summer days are on the wane, great is his contribution to our autumn festival when all living growth joins together in all the colors of the setting sun for one last song before winter night calls for rest and slumber.  To understand and appreciate the message of this old oak means more for the good life then all the books of man” (Jensen, 1939, p. 8).

Jens Jensen - Siftings


Today I was reminded of the importance in connecting to this message of the oak whilst in my learning journey through the books of men. - Garth