Jennifer Scates, President
It is definitely springtime now where I live: the soil has warmed, the shade trees are leafing out and my roses and peach and fig trees are blossoming.
I have always gardened. When I was five years old, I grew potatoes and green beans in the back yard. When I lived in college dorms or apartments, I grew tomatoes and peppers in pots and in bags, or I gardened in a community garden-space. Now that I live in a house with a yard, I grow roses and herbs and a few fruit trees, and vegetable gardens every few years.
I have always learned from gardening. Many of the lessons are not really about gardening at all. There are the obvious lessons, of course. There are always lessons about patience - while I wait for this to sprout or that to bloom, or this to ripen for picking or that to mature into its setting and shape.
There are lessons about suitability. I know now that azaleas grow easily and well in Houston but not in Austin, and that Russian black plum tomatoes grow well in Austin and Mr. Stripey tomatoes grow well in east Texas. Although I tried for years, I cannot grow gardenias (my sister can), but I can grow lovely African violets (although she tried for years, my sister cannot).
There are lessons about self-sufficiency and economy and sharing. My son and husband and I have often paused in the grocery store aisle, looking at the jars of fig and peach preserves and jams and assuring ourselves that our fig and peach preserves and jams are prettier and tastier. Every year we share our preserves and jams with friends, who share their wild grape, jalapeno, and wild plum jellies and herb-infused honeys with us.
There are lessons about cooperation; whether it is the co-working of a community garden or the coordination of which one - and only one - person in the neighborhood will be growing enough zucchini (three plants) for everyone.
There are lessons about sustainability. How much water will that need? Is it susceptible to bugs or blight? How much space will it take? What grew here last time? Are we really going to eat all of that? Where are we going to put all the zucchini?
There are lessons about perseverance. I have had early gardens blighted by a late freeze, and washed out by spring rains. I have had late gardens blighted by an early freeze, and summer gardens blasted by heat and drought.
There are always lessons about best-laid plans, for, as Thomas Fuller said, "many things grow in the garden that were never sown there."
There are the lessons about connectedness with the earth in which we live, which sustains and provides for us, and which I, in a small way, am helping steward. My family jokes that on Sundays I am generally at the Garden Chapel, but the point of that joke is, as Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, "When one loses the deep intimate relationship with nature, then temples, mosques and churches become important."
There are lessons about my connectedness with people. Next month my friend and I will be dividing up the overgrown pots of my great-aunt's bromeliads and giving them to our neighbors; my great-aunt passed away this winter. Last year, friends planted cuttings from my green China rose at a park in my city and at Gettysburg; my rose came from cuttings from my mother's rose.
One of my most important lessons came to me at the local garden store earlier in the season, when I heard a customer and a store staff member talking. The customer asked when was the best time to plant a tree? The store staff member answered that that would have been twenty years ago, but that the second best time was right now.
Now, it seemed to me that there is very little difference between that tree-planting advice and this advice, from Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow: "One of the most powerful, and deeply spiritual, ways to work for social change is for us to take action in the present that embodies -- right now! -- the future vision that we seek."
It is what we in Ethical Culture strive to do - to take action in the present that embodies the future we seek, to plant trees for the generations that follow us. It is what all of us on the boards and committees of the American Ethical Union and its Societies strive to do, too. By our stewardship, we take action in the present that embodies the future we seek for our Societies and their federation. We plant trees and gardens for the generations that follow us.
We practice patience. We wait for this plan to develop, for that project to be funded, for this committee to be populated with volunteers, for that project to unfold and grow into its setting and shape.
We look for suitability. We work to match the passions, the projects and plans, the resources, and the priorities.
We strive for self-sufficiency, economy, and sharing. We look to the resources within our Societies and our movement, which are all practicing new economies. We share through the Society reports at the AEU Board meetings, the Presidents' List, visiting each other and each other's websites, through our annual Assembly and through our Strategic Planning Listening Sessions
We practice co-operation on so many levels - between and among Societies, committees, board and committee members, and outside groups.
We strive for sustainability. We carefully steward and nurture our resources, and look to develop new suitable resources.
We strive for perseverance, and we strive to accept the lessons about best-laid plans. We may not like these lessons, but we remember that "many things grow in the garden that were never sown there."
I must admit that, in my personal experience with the American Ethical Union, lessons about my connectedness with the earth are often limited to the rooftop view of Central Park during AEU Board meetings. I think that dearth is more than made up for not just by the connectedness we have between people throughout the Ethical Culture Movement, but by our emphasis on the necessary fact and quality of relationships inherent in Ethical Culture.
And we thank all of those who planted trees at the "best time" twenty years ago; those are the trees we nurture and are supported by today. We understand that the second-best time to plant is now. It is time to plant our trees - to volunteer three hours a month for a Society or AEU committee, to attend a Listening Session or Summer School or Assembly, to donate money or to make a bequest, to tell five friends about Ethical Culture, to nurture and grow the trees that are - and will be - the shade and support of our Ethical Societies for years to come.