I’m not sure if it’s genetics or a product of being tossed outdoors all day as a child, but I’ve always been more comfortable outside than in. I still remember ordering my little paperback book about George Washington Carver in the fourth grade because the description said he had a secret garden in the woods as a child. I had a secret garden in the woods!
I’m pretty sure I was the only nut on the planet landscaping our forts built in the pine forests. Back in those days, kids roamed fields, forests and streams all afternoon or day, depending on the school year. Without computers and hand-held games, and with TV options limited by both channels and parents, we roamed for miles on bicycles, played long games of football and baseball, fished for crawdads in the creek with a string and bacon, and explored every nook and cranny of all uninhabited spaces. I was into slithering long before Harry Potter.
But that still wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. I needed to garden. Perhaps it was a long line of farming genes coursing through my veins or perhaps it was just pure horticultural curiosity, but I wanted to grow flowers, fruits and vegetables, and eat what I produced. I wanted to kick up dirt and walk long rows.
My favorite character on TV was Mr. Green Jeans from the Captain Kangaroo show because he talked about farms and animals. That’s why I wear green jeans to work every day (OK, it’s really because they don’t show grass stains). Thanks to my mom, my first gardening book was Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. First, my dad provided me a small plot behind the old Ezra Wheeler place in Arcadia to garden while he tended his cows on the weekends, then he really ruined me by providing me a little Farmall Super A tractor, a disc, a middle buster plow, a Merry Tiller and a large fenced-off rectangle of sandy soil to “farm” just up the road from our home in Longview.
Given instructions from my dad and granddad on how to disc and till a straight row, I was off and running. I’ve always said I was born to be a truck farmer. But as much as I enjoy growing produce, I think I enjoy the feel and sound of the outdoors even more. Maybe that’s why I chose gardening as a hobby and profession. I’ve heard the same about farmers and ranchers.
Closed-in spaces make me feel antsy and claustrophobic, and noisy crowds make me nervous and panicky. That’s why I never liked parties - not as a child and not as a teenager. Give me a field or a forest and the sounds of birds and tree frogs. That’s one reason I get up so early in the morning. I need the quiet to write and listen to what’s in my head. Bird song is the only chatter I can tolerate in the morning.
A bird true to its name, the Pine Warbler is common in many eastern pine forests and is rarely seen away from pines. These yellowish warblers are hard to spot as they move along high branches to prod clumps of needles with their sturdy bills. If you don’t see them, listen for their steady, musical trill, which sounds very like a Chipping Sparrow or Dark-eyed Junco, which are also common piney-woods sounds through much of the year.