I just passed the halfway mark of my six-month contract. One part of me is thinking, “I only have three months left?” and the other part says with relief, “I still have three months left!” The garden filled in so fast, from tiny transplants to strong vegetables ready to harvest, that I still feel like I just started. Really, though, the third and last session of student gardeners starts next Monday, and then August will be here, school will start again, and September will come and happen and end my time as a School Garden Supervisor for Calypso. But, I still have three months left, and here I am already getting ahead of myself.
The pace of gardening in Alaska is faster than in Vermont. Even though it may take a little longer for the ground to thaw in the spring, and the winter sets in sooner in October, once the temperature creeps up, the garden is off to a sprint. The farmers at Calypso often do late night planting, starting at 11:00 or midnight, and sometimes going until 2:00 a.m. because the weather is perfect and the light stretches out. At the school gardens it’s different, as we do most of the planting with the students who work from 3:00-6:00 p.m. My garden, at Hunter Elementary School, is hot. Surrounded by pavement and pebble-filled playgrounds and with no trees for shade, the heat radiates all around the garden and encourages the plants to grow fast, as if there was an individual sun over each vegetable. Some veggies want to bolt because of this, and part of everyday is just walking around the garden observing, snapping off flowers from the tatsoi and the beets, and deciding whether or not the broccoli can hold on for another day.
The students only work Monday-Thursday, so the rest of the week is my time to be at the garden alone. I am thankful to have a volunteer come on Sundays, so I do have one full day off, and lately the rains have set in on the weekends, giving me a break from watering, but I still like to spend time on Saturdays when the streets are a bit quieter, doing some work. Last weekend, a man walked up to the fence to compliment the garden and asked, “What are you doing here on a Saturday?”
“Oh, I’m just checking on everything—doing some weeding,” I replied. The garden doesn’t take a break on weekends like the students do; it grows through the constant sun, unfailing and steady. Even in the shock of transplant, which causes the outer squash leaves to yellow and wilt, the center continues to expand out and up, offering new green into the world. I respond to the light, too, gaining energy by just being outside. Unlike being at home in Vermont, I don’t know it’s late by looking at the sky, and instead I’ve learned to pay more attention to my body and stay in tune with how I’m feeling so I don’t overrun myself too much. There have been weeks when I wake up early each day to run, then bike the ten miles to the garden and work before the students arrive, then spend three hours with them before biking home. I always think it will be sustainable, but my energy wears out after four days of this schedule, and I remember there is a reason the plants go to seed so quickly here: even though the light gives energy, it can also stress and it signals the need to flower, reproduce, and cycle back into the soil, just as I crash and need to catch up on sleep once all my energy reserves have been spent. When I think of home, what I miss most are the cool evenings fading into nights spent around campfires that light up the darkness.
This first half of my job has gone by quickly, and I know the second half will as well, and then I will make my way back to Vermont, if only for a short while. I’m still on the no-plan plan, but as the time gets closer, I feel the pull for green mountains and family. Until then, I will continue to follow the energy as it moves, and be here, thankful for the sunlight and all it grows.