Get Growing with Mickey Rathbun: Patience and perseverance in the natural world 


For the Gazette

Published: 07-10-2023 12:12 PM

When I wrote a death notice in this column a few months ago for my three Little King river birches I was feeling pretty miserable. These nice young trees were forming the architectural spine of an evolving garden behind the house that had been a tangle of creeping euonymus and poison ivy five years earlier. If only I had watered them more, I told myself, they wouldn’t have succumbed to last summer’s drought. If only… Those are not helpful words under any circumstances, especially in the garden.

Gardening teaches us a lot of things. Patience, hope, and dealing gracefully with disappointment are at the top of my list of attitudes yet to be mastered. The sight of the dead trees was a daily reminder of my neglect and I was tempted to cut the trees down, dig out the roots and start again. But when my friend Lilian Jackman suggested that I wait a season before bringing out the saw, I took her advice. A professional garden designer and plants-woman, she seems to have no end of patience and hope and the ability to shrug off disappointment. She said that the trees’ primordial tissue might kick in and send out new life. I waited.

Around the first of June, I noticed a few tiny green sprouts emerging from the base of the largest tree. I ran into the house to tell my husband that we had primordial tissue in the garden. He didn’t know what I was talking about, but he congratulated me anyway. A few days later, there were green sprouts growing from several of the branches. This gave me hope that the two smaller trees might also muster up some primordial tissue and spring to life again. So far, no such luck. But the largest tree is a mass of fresh green leaves that grow more abundant by the day.

When an arborist friend visited recently, I eagerly took him outside to show him my tree’s primordial tissue. I asked him what he thought. He’s a bit of a pessimist, and answered, “Well, it’s not dead, but it’s never going to look anything like it used to look.” This may be true, of course. Probably is true. But I can’t wait to see what it will look like in a few years’ time. I’ll take pride in it no matter how peculiar its shape.

Speaking of patience and hope, this spring my husband and I watched the long, drawn-out courtship of a couple of wild turkeys. The tom spent several days fanning out his tail and making his wattle calls in hopes of winning the heart of a hen who lives in the underbrush at the edge of our property. He spent one night perched in the maple tree behind our house serenading her plaintively. The next day the hen slowly approached him but then retreated. He kept at it, ever hopeful that he’d win his lady. There were a few more awkward attempts to meet up, and then we didn’t see them anymore.

One afternoon last week I noticed the hen out pecking around in the grass. It took me a few seconds to realize that she was not alone. Ten tiny chicks bobbed around her, scurrying as far away from her as they dared and then scurrying back to her for safety. The babies are growing very quickly and it won’t be long before they fledge and the whole cycle begins again.

As I’ve noted many times in this column, I’m once again reminded how blessed we are to live in a place where we can witness patience, hope and perseverance at work in the natural world.

On a more practical note, the 49th annual Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA) summer conference will take place July 24-29. The event will be online for the first three days and continue online and in-person for July 28-29 at Worcester State University in Worcester. The theme of this year’s conference is BuenVivir: Celebrating Harmony with Nature and our Communities. BuenVivir is a contemporary philosophy rooted in Indigenous Andean traditions of collective care, land stewardship and harmonious co-existence. The conference will highlight farming technologies and practices. The many activities offered include a seed swap, soil testing and tool demonstrations.

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The MA Pollinator Network is part of NOFA and this year the conference will include a pollinator track. The pollinator presentations will include sessions on Dark Sky awareness, green roofs as pollinator habitat, managing invasive plants, converting lawns to meadows with Owen Wormser, and a talk by Native Plant Trust’s own Uli Lorimer. There will also be in-person programs for children.

For more information and to register, go to:

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the “Get Growing” column since 2016.