On February 6, 1948 (the day of the Feast of Saint Dorothy), Dorothy Day wrote in her journal,
St. Dorothy is the patroness of gardeners, and when I think of a garden, I think of a garden enclosed, as the Blessed Mother is described to be. A wall is a lovely thing – with fruit trees and hollyhocks and tall things growing against it. A garden not too small to have a grape arbor at one end, where there can be tables and chairs and benches for outdoor meals. Such a garden is for women and children, so that there can be no straying of little feet.
St. Dorothy, pray we may one day have such a garden, that we may settle long enough in one place to put roots in, if not our own, since we are pilgrims, at least a tree’s, a vine’s.
This weekend, I finally started my own little garden here in Atlanta. It’s quite a humble garden, as I can only buy as much as I am able to carry home on public transportation – which translates to one small bag of soil in my backpack, and a young tomato plant in each hand. I’ve planned on having a garden for quite awhile, but hadn’t yet because I have been discouraged by this limitation. While wandering around Lowes, trying to find a small enough bag of soil to carry with me, I began to think of the impact this has on my neighbors. I am a firm believer in growing a personal or community vegetable garden as a cheap, simple, and meaningful source of food. But never before had I truly realized how difficult this task is for the poor. Though my purchases at Lowes seemed cheap to me, many of my neighbors can’t afford to spend ten dollars just to grow two tomato plants, let alone an entire garden of vegetables. And this is assuming they have a yard (and the freedom from their landlords) to plant a garden. Also, many of them cannot afford the proper tools to make gardening easier, such as trowels, garden shears, gloves or watering cans. And then there is the issue of getting all these things home from the store. This is definitely a difficulty for my neighbors who take public transportation, not just for gardening, but for an abundance of different things, such as grocery shopping, laundry, or buying anything larger than a single person can carry.
I was frustrated by these issues, but carrying tomatoes home on the train turned out to be a much more joyful experience than I had anticipated. People of all ages, genders, races, and backgrounds seemed enlivened by the presence of nature in an otherwise dull and dreary environment. Several people asked about the plants, including a young girl, teenage boys, and an elderly Indian woman. The two little tomato plants sparked more conversations that I’ve ever had on a journey home. One man even offered to hold one of the plants to give me a tiny break from having full hands. Though I was frustrated by the prospect of carrying these little vegetables on the train, God blessed me with a gateway to encounter the people around me.
I was planning on planting an abundance of vegetables and herbs, but I might just settle for a few plants. On a stipend of only $70 a month, I won’t be able to get as many plants as I had hoped. And at the rate of two plants per week, it might take me quite awhile to get a substantial garden growing. By that time, Mission Year will be ending and it will be time for our team to move. Like Dorothy Day, I too am a pilgrim. But although I will not settle here long, I will settle long enough to put a few roots in the ground. I hope that wherever you are, you will do the same.