Seeing the garden in spite of the weeds

We’re coming off of one of those long stretches of week that sometimes happens for us in the summer when work and fun sort of collide to create this chaotic swarm of action and stress and fun.

We had a birthday party, cousins visiting from Texas, a children’s theater production, a visit from a PBS film crew, a swing set building project that likely won’t be done until Rosie gets married and it was awesome to have so much to do and so many people around us to love…

But in the middle of it all was this big Art in the Park event I’ve been planning for months as part of my work running an arts foundation in the community.

I put a lot of effort into this event. We had generous sponsors that put hard earned money into it as well. I enlisted the help of all of the family I could round up, plus my husband and board members and volunteers. In my mind, if we could pull it off, it was going to be a fun gathering of local music, artists and hands-on activities.

And after the stress of setting up and making everyone fit in a limited space, for a good three hours or so the sun-shined and the people milled and the music played and the kids got their faces painted and did projects and played in the park and the artists talked with shoppers and it was exactly as I envisioned. And I was thrilled for us all…

And then the thunder clapped and the sky opened up and it rained and rained and rained….

And a part of me wanted to cry, but a bigger part of me said instead, at least the sun shone on us for a while.

Because I was born with something in me that seems to beg me not to be let down…

And that’s what this week’s column is about…seeing the garden in spite of the weeds.

Coming Home: Never mind the weeds

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Last night, I put the girls to bed before the sun set and headed out to the garden.

It had been an entire week since I had a chance to dig in that dirt in an attempt manage my little crop of vegetables, and I could see from my window all the rain gave the weeds permission to set up shop.

But I didn’t mind. When I first moved back to the ranch, I made myself a list of the things I wanted back in my life after spending a few years thinking I didn’t know who I was. At the top of that list was a simple little promise to keep a garden. And because it was quiet last night as I kicked up the smell of damp dirt, I had a moment to remember why.

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When I was a kid, probably close to 10 or 11, I entered my garden into the county fair. Because of the timing of our growing season, I didn’t have any vegetables to present, so I decided I would document the process. I can’t remember every detail of the exhibit or what we grew that summer, but I do remember I put together a picture book with some progress photos.

I recall one photo I was particularly proud of that featured 10-year-old me in a T-shirt, ponytail and jeans standing confidently next to our little corn crop. The idea was to show the height of our stalks to the judge in a book that, between the shiny Kodak photos pasted on construction paper and the sentences spelled out in wavering Sharpie lines, told less of a story of a master gardener and more of a kid who liked a project.

I was pretty certain the judge would be impressed, which made it that much harder to process the sinking feeling when he pointed to that picture and asked, “What’s that there?”

I moved my eyes from my beautiful corn stocks down to the border of the garden where the judge placed his finger.

“Weeds,” I said as my face flushed.

Weeds that the judge suddenly made me notice for the first time in all of the hours I spent digging in that dirt and documenting my progress.

Weeds my dad never pointed out to me. Weeds my mom never mentioned. Weeds that earned me a red ribbon instead of the coveted blue.

Weeds that today remind me of the vulnerability of my optimistic nature. That I could look right past that snarl of crabgrass and creeping Jenny and only see the promise of grilled corn on the cob or the snap of a fresh pea says something about the innocence and wonder of childhood, a person I become again when I’m standing in a garden I made grow.

And I’m thankful for that judge. He did his job and I was better for it. And on days the burdens in my life grow in too close, threatening to steal my rain and choke out the sun, I know I can chop them down if I need to.

But sometimes I like that it’s in me to say never mind the weeds. Better things are coming with a little sunshine and rain.

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For the love of music

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In an old small theater in a small western North Dakota town, a retired professional bull rider stood up on the stage behind his guitar, next to his band, and strummed the first few notes that kicked off the culmination of an idea that had been in the works for months.

The lights were flashing, the sound was big, and the recently reupholstered seats were filled with a crowd of people who made plans to attend a party in the name of turning a Saturday night into something bigger.

And that something bigger was to save that old theater standing among a collection of brick buildings on Main Street in Belfield, a town of 1,000 off the off the interstate west of Dickinson.

It’s a big project. Everything needed a facelift, a tinkering, a fresh coat of paint. Work was being done up to the moment guests started arriving, buying drinks, filling up small paper plates with food and finding their seats.

I was there that night to perform and to watch some of the guys from the band I play with debut their new project, a tribute band honoring the late Chris Ledoux, a bull rider musician made famous by a line in a Garth Brooks song.

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And that’s where this story started, with a song that kicked off a show where that singing cowboy left his guitar and microphone to step off the stage and ride a bucking machine under the spotlight in front of a crowd of a couple hundred of his community members and peers while I held my breath hoping that the man could pull it off.

The music kept playing, the crowd cheered, the bucking machine stopped and he jumped back on the stage. The show went on.

He pulled it off.

I let out a sigh of relief and a big cheer, then sat back and looked around, wondering what possesses us to do such things.

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I mean, it would have been easier to skip the bull-riding section of the performance all together and eliminate the risk of embarrassment or injury. If it were me, I probably would have. The show would have been good without that surprise element. But with it, well, it was pretty awesome.

And the musicians in that band also work full-time jobs, some have families, and they dedicated months to prepare for this night, to prepare for a crowd that wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to show up.

The woman who made a dedication to save the theater and the handful of volunteers who scrubbed and scraped the walls, re-upholstered those seats, sent out press releases and made the food for the night probably had other ways to spend their time.

And the crowd who showed up probably had work to do, fields to till, cattle to brand, yards to clean, windows to wash.

But it was Saturday night …

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For the past year I’ve been working with a group of volunteers in my town to put together a council on the arts in our remote area. To raise money for the new organization, we decided to organize a big fundraiser featuring western North Dakota artists and performers. It’s been a labor of love and, with a baby at home, not the most convenient time to take on such a big commitment.

I spend a lot of my time crossing my fingers, hoping that people will show up, that we will get a crowd and that celebrating our artists and performers is something this community might want to invest in, something that they might find valuable.

It could be a total flop, yet we’re still gambling our time and energy on the belief that committing our time and talent to this will help make our community better.

I think of those men last weekend and, you know, it could have been Chris Ledoux or Garth Brooks himself up there, but I doubt it would have had the same effect on me.

Because Garth Brooks has owned stages all over the world, but that night in that small town in western North Dakota, the theater, the stage, the music and that crazy cowboy riding that bucking machine in the spotlight, all of it was all ours.

Jessie Gene MikeP1010595

If you’re in the Watford City area, please join us for the
Long X Arts Council’s Badlands Arts Showcase and Fundraising Gala
Thursday, May 26th
at the new Performing Arts Center in the Watford City High School.

Doors open to the Art Show at 5:30
Performance starts at 7
More information at http://www.longxarts.com 

Arts Showcase Poster