When I was in graduate school some of my professors talked about “different ways of knowing,” meaning different from the standard scientific, quantifiable research. Not that the school didn’t think it was important, but they were also committed to offering us different ways to see the world, different ways to observe, learn, draw conclusions. Many thesis projects took on the form of ethnography or action research. The school had a program that allowed people to gain college credit based on life experience. The professor who ran the program worked with these students to write and demonstrate their learning from those life experiences. I was always in awe that someone could turn their life experience into credit in an academic institution. It seemed to fly in the face of academia, and I was intrigued.
Now that I look back it seems to make perfect sense. I guess, at the time, I didn’t think that I had any life experience that was profound enough to qualify. And, maybe that was so, or not, but I have been reminded this week that sometimes knowing comes with the small things.
We have been sick this week, me, my daughter, and now my son. I was in bed for two days and didn’t get into the garden until yesterday. So much had changed in the days I left it alone. Immediately I noticed that many of the tomato plants had been stripped of their top leaves, leaving the stems practically bare.
Experience has taught me there is only one creature that can cause this much damage in such a short period of time. It use to take me a long time to find them, even days, but now I can pick them out with a quick scan of the plant. The horned caterpillar is the exact same color as the stems and leaves of the tomato vine. It can take out an entire tomato plant in a matter of days, there is usually more than one, and they grow at an incredibly rapid rate.
I thought I wasn’t going to see any this year, but alas, they have arrived, a sign that it is finally time to remove the last of the summer garden and replace it with the cooler season crops. I wasn’t feeling up to removing the horned ones today, so I let them be to devour more of the foliage.
A few days earlier, I looked out our backdoor window and noticed the zucchini plant was covered with birds. I had never seen birds land on a squash plant and knew something must be amiss. Now, the zucchini plant had been slowing down for a while and getting weaker. I went outside yesterday to find it covered in some sort of mite. Hence, the birds.
Once you spend enough time in the garden, your experience allows you to trust your instincts. You notice right away when something is different, a plant is struggling. Just like you can take one look at your child’s face and know when they are not feeling well. There is subtlety in this kind of knowing, knowing something intimately.
The garden allows me to linger and take notice, this I know. If I could speak to my ten-year younger self I would tell her that sometimes people learn a lot from a large life experience and sometimes from lingering and getting to know something intimately over time. Each can be equally profound.
I thought about this as I poked around the garden this morning, sowing some seeds here and there, still feeling fatigued from the sinus infection. Then, I picked up my toddler, felt his too warm body, and knew he was next to be knocked down by this virus. We rocked in the rocking chair. He drifted off to sleep. And I thought about mites, horned worms, and being a parent, and was filled up with how much I know.