Monday, September 6, 2010

In America, we’re trained to dream big. Arthritic Olympians can look forward to time on the motivational speaking circuit once their athletic prowess begins to wane. They spoon feed us the same lines we’ve heard since elementary school: work hard, dream big and you might be surprised by what you accomplish.

But when the national unemployment remains rooted at 9% and every news report about the economy seems like a tug-of-war between what we want to hear (“it’s improving slowly”) and how it really is (“but no one’s hiring”) sometimes it seems wiser to dream just a little smaller. After all, if we’re learning to “live in the moment” shouldn’t we be learning to be happy with what we have? If we have health and employment, it can appear frivolous to wish for anything more.

This summer, Andy and I tested out our green thumbs. It turns out that we each have pale green thumbs. Some of the plants – tomatoes, peppers, beans – flourished. Others – squash, cabbage, kohlrabi – struggled. We may not have the most bountiful harvest, but over the course of the summer, we’ve enjoyed eating our own lettuce, making stir-fry with our green beans, and experimenting with salsa recipes.

More than anything, this summer served as a tutorial to gardening at the cabin. We learned that next year we need to account for wind, shade, and soil quality when we plot out the garden. But perhaps the most important thing I learned was just how big plants grow during a summer season.

As I watched tomato and pepper plants grow directly proportional to the pots they’d been planted, I realized we’d drastically underestimated how much space our plants needed. When you’ve watch a plant start out as a seed sunk into a shallow dish of soil, it can be hard to believe that this fragile seedling will ever grow into a large, fruiting planting. But over time they will and do.

So is it logical to dream big in a world that offers so many set backs? Maybe it’s not terribly practical, but I do know one thing: you can only grow as big as the pot you’ve planted yourself in.

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