Several months ago, I reconnected by phone with a high school friend I haven’t seen in 50 years. As we were catching up on our lives through the past decades, he was surprised to learn that I wrote cooking columns for the Sunday Gazette-Mail and weekly Metro editions. He was also surprised to learn I enjoy gardening.
In carefully choosing the right words to respond, he said, “I remember you were somewhat earthy.” At first, the comment struck me as funny, but I realized it was probably an apt description. I’d like to think of myself as being “down-to-earth,” sensible and practical.
One definition of “earthy” describes a person who is honest about their emotions and things connected to life. I decided being defined as “earthy” was a compliment.
Soon after this discussion, I read an op-ed in the Gazette-Mail by Sheila McEntee. She talked about how West Virginia state forests became a place of discovery and refuge. When she was grieving, angry, worried or unsure, she could go to the woods and it was as if the soft mosses and ferns would absorb her apprehensions and grief.
I realized that my garden offers me those same feelings of joy and healing. I can find solace in my garden through the scent of herbs or the sound of a mockingbird in the holly tree. Whether picking berries or pulling weeds, my garden has always been a place of peace and restoration.
Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks wrote about the psychological and physiological rewards of gardening. He took his patients to gardens whenever possible to calm, reinvigorate and refresh the body and spirit. He called it nonpharmaceutical “therapy,” and found the experience was more powerful than medication.
I am reminded of my favorite high school reading assignment, Willa Cather’s novel “My Ántonia.” The book’s narrator, Jim Burden, describes his grandmother’s garden as a place where he was “entirely happy.”
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology said people who spend time on creative activities live happier lives. Growing one’s own food inspires fresh ideas in cooking.
Being creative in the kitchen is also therapeutic. Cooking can be a meditative process. It can soothe jangled nerves, heal a broken heart, cure boredom and anxiety. Like gardening, cooking is a wonderful way to engage one’s senses through aroma, taste and visual inspiration.
There are now therapists who use gardening and cooking courses as a means to treat depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders in their patients. Growing and preparing one’s own food can make a person happier, more intuitive and more connected to the people in his or her world.
For me, gardening and cooking can be comforting and rewarding.
My friend and I are considering a face-to-face meeting in the future. In subsequent calls, he has apologized for calling me “earthy,” but I am rather flattered. When we meet, I shouldn’t be too difficult to pick out in a crowd, even with an absence of 50 years.
I’ll be the one in the tie-dyed T-shirt, wearing Birkenstocks, smelling of patchouli, flashing a peace sign, and carrying a gift basket containing wheat germ applesauce muffins, peanut butter energy bites, a piece of my handmade pottery and some homemade granola. I may even throw in a copy of “Hippie Homesteaders,” since the author, Carter Seaton, gave me a brief mention. Can I get any earthier than that?