The Pacific Northwest Garden Show and the one in Portland is this weekend. We will step into the fantasy world of gardens in full bloom in hopes of getting some food for the soul and inspiration for creating as well as practical education. After my friend gave me the book “One Magic Square” we’ve been more adamant than ever to provide more of our own food and to make compost bins that actually turn garbage into soil and not just food for nocturnal scavengers to go through.
We’ve built the castello Adytum, now it’s time to focus more on food production for us and our guests while also providing a little dirt therapy for guests that love to play in the garden. Each suite will have an herb and vegetable garden right outside the door to create an impromptu salad if they don’t want to go into town for lunch.
In “One Magic Square”, One Magic Square: The Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square, Lolo Houbein tells dramatic stories about her own near starvation experience in the last world war, ending up at 75 pounds. Supply lines were cut off and those that had land for gardening survived, those that didn’t have them didn’t fare so well. The wise had saved seeds from prior harvests, committed to growing their own food and had a few chickens for eggs and fertilizer. We too are thinking along those lines.
Monsanto is now responsible for 94 percent of all GM (genetically modified) seeds planted around the world. Houbein writes, “To have the world’s staple food crops narrowed to so few varieties, and to have ownership of practically all commercial seed for these major crops in the hands of one corporation is an unprecedented and frightening situation – especially when you know that this company is also developing the technology for terminator seeds.” Terminator seeds are genetically programmed against reproduction. Once their pollen mixes with crops they will endanger their seed producing capability. This is a disaster of major proportions.
I have enjoyed reading a book many times now called “Monastic Gardens” Monastic Gardensby Mick Hales. While not from the Catholic tradition ourselves, there are many things that we’re striving to recreate from the monastic lifestyle at Adytum. Hales describes the monks and nuns as “radiating an intrinsic happiness that most of us would envy” despite their monasteries being literally overwhelmed by visitors. Their happiness and ability to handle stress stem from their connection with the land and God. “We are striving for humility in our lives, to draw closer to our God. It is not an accident that the humus or the soil comes from the same word. It is the base from which everything grows. Gardening and my spiritual life go together.” They pray while they work and often on their knees for both activities so central to their lives at the monastery. There is no division at Adytum of work and spiritual life. Spirituality is not for the weekends alone.
We receive our life from the land, the soil, and the plants we nurture there by our careful attention. We receive our sustenance from God in the same way: by careful attention “attending to realities” breathing out our requests and thanks to God and receiving life for our spirit and soul in return from both in their own ways.
Adytum’s purpose is to create the surroundings to encourage living a life dedicated to spiritual development, deepening our connection with God, the land, ourselves and each other. It was interesting for me to discover in the Monastic Gardens book that a retreat house for guests was always built directly after the main chapel building. Early monasteries were expected to provide hospitality for those passing through, pilgrims on the way. They also provided havens where guests could come away from the world as well, to be silent, to think and meditate, to reconnect with nature, with God, with their own selves and the loved ones in life. That is the heart and soul of Adytum’s purpose and the feedback from guests is confirming that our intention, breathed aloud in the construction of this sanctuary, has been fulfilled. I have heard the word “reconnect” from guests over and over.
Additionally, the Benedictines Hales studied took a vow of stability with the land. They stay with one piece of land their whole lives. I love that concept reflecting commitment, care, nurture and enjoyment. Isn’t that exactly the element present in marriage and in our relationship with God and care of our own selves?
The Benedictines realize the importance of having a balance in life between the body, the soul and the mind. “Working with the plants, one gets to know their essence and understand that they are not just a commodity. The gardener becomes rooted to the ground, which is part of God’s creation…This is why we have to revere everything in the earth.” We agree a thousand percent. Monks hold respect for the soil as an essential element of God’s creation. Soil becomes us. We again become soil in the circle of life. Abe Lincoln said he was made of the field behind his house. Humbling… He also said that the footprint of the owner is the best manure. Footprints laid down in walking meditation and prayer, better still.
We have been dedicated to organic and green methods at Adytum from the beginning, unwilling to use chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or to pollute the ground water insofar as we’re able. Everywhere you dig on the nearly 16 acres will yield shovels full of earthworms. I can feel the life of the soil under my feet as I enjoy connecting with the land many times a day, regardless of the weather.
We have also, like the Benedictines, cultivated a profound awareness of the birds and animals that share this sacred mountain with us. This used to be called Birley Mountain. It was an impassable tangle of Himalayan Blackberries, Salmon berries and forest. We have slowly carved out pathways, preserving habitat with vegetation by steams and brush piles for birds, insects and small mammals to protect them from the ever present raptors.
We have gotten very clear direction about how to proceed with the management of the house and land here at Adytum. That direction just happens to align closely with the model set by the Benedictine community and we embrace it as a sustainable way of life for us, our guests and the land. We are cultivating a life on our knees, literally and on the knees of our heart as we seek to practice the presence of God here no matter what we’re engaged in or day of the week it is. There is no separation from us and God, or us and the land; we are all flowing harmoniously, feeding and being fed, nurturing and being nurtured, sustaining and being sustained in spirit, body and mind.