I saw him out of the corner of my eye. A little boy, munching on the leaves of the nearby kale crop. Not wanting to alarm him but also hoping to entice him away from terrorizing the fields, I went up to him and asked him his name, how he liked Green Gulch and how his morning was going. He seemed to welcome the conversation and I breathed a sigh of relief as I managed to preserve both the fields and this child’s love of the garden.
I’ve been volunteering with the Youth & Family Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center for several months now. I was nervous at first. I mean, what do I know about kids? But there is something about seeing kids laughing and squirming in the meditation hall that delights me to no end. And seeing kids learning about gardening, as well as, their own hearts and minds, inspires me.
The first Sunday of November, we planted cover crop for the winter in the Children’s Garden, a small plot of land set aside just for kids. The kids LOVED it. They dug their hands into the inoculated seedy mix and threw them all over the soil in the way that only kids can. After Thanksgiving, I returned to see the cover crops bursting through their cloth covers and was thrilled. I hoped that some of the kids had also since returned and seen the progress of their messy fun.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that being around these kids didn’t tug at my own sense of loss at not having children. A few years ago, volunteering with children probably would have been too painful for me to bear. But these days, I find myself moving into a different phase of my life. And I find that I really want children to be a part of it, in fun and creative ways. It seems clear to me that children need community to help them grow. And now more than ever, I see a need for children to feel close to nature. Whether that means nibbling on a kale leaf straight from the field or throwing seeds in the tilled soil of a small garden.
We have a special closing chant to help kids develop a kinship with both the land and their own hearts. It comes straight from Zen Master Eihei Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen and author of some of the most brilliant but densest Zen texts in existence. This one, however, is pretty accessible, to both kids and parents alike (it seems to really touch the parents, but maybe that's just me). It goes something like this:
Body like the mountain.
Heart like the ocean.
Mind like the sky.
(What I'm watching right now: Why children's drawings matter)