My summers with dirt
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My summers with dirt

By Tracy Lohman

Vine-ripe goodness from Tracy’s greenhouse. Photo by Tracy Lohman.

Gardening is my obsession. The first bite into a vine-ripe tomato slays me, but the main reason I garden is to be outside and bask in “no jacket required” summer days. We had a lot of those hot days in June, not so many this month.

This is my 32nd summer in Alaska. I count the years in summers because it’s my favorite time of year and also because (true confessions) I’m not a winter person. I’m not into all the cold and dark.

Summer in Alaska is as fleeting as hugs from my teenage kids—blink your eyes and you might miss it—so when it happens, you’ve got to embrace it.

Catching the gardening bug

Tracy with her garden friends.

Early in my gardening days I had a vision for a greenhouse, so I combed through Craigslist and the Habitat for Humanity Restore for used windows and old doors (yes, I still have a few in the yard). When I drove off to load our “weekends-only” Eurovan with stuff, it meant only one thing—there’d be a project to work on that evening.

Unloading the van became a family affair and the garage soon filled with enough pieces to build a greenhouse. Like a Tetris puzzle, the doors and windows came together as a quirky little house in the backyard.

Once equipped with raised beds filled with soil, the garden home served its true purpose—getting me outside to commune with dirt. Every year, tomato and cucumber seeds sprout in little containers near every south facing window of our house. Each plant is then cared for like an infant until the frost breaks in late May. It’s a commitment, for sure, and a relationship.

When these plants grow taller and their roots crowd the small pots, I transplant the seedlings into bigger pots, and then harden them off so they can go into their new home in the greenhouse.

Spending summers with dirt means growth and more growth. Photo by Tracy Lohman.

Our crop certainly wouldn’t feed a family of four, but what grew that first season were the sweetest baby tomatoes and the juiciest cukes ever. I found it satisfying to grow my own salad from seed, and I kept doing it year after year. Plus, all those blooms feed the butterflies and keep the bees pollinating.

An ever-growing thing

My garden has spilled out of the greenhouse and into the backyard now. New additions include a very prolific crab apple tree, a not-so-productive cherry tree, and lots and lots of herbs filling more pots and more raised beds. Forget-me-nots line the garden edges and creep across the lawn, too.

For eight summers now, I’ve spent most evenings and weekends hunched over greens, watering and fertilizing, pruning and pulling weeds. I’ve made connections with the neighbors and shared garden greens over the fence.

A butterfly basks on a leaf in the greenhouse. Photo by Tracy Lohman.

Good for the body, good for the heart

It’s true that research says getting outside in nature is good for our bodies and minds. While getting dirty planting, weeding, and harvesting, I lose myself in my thoughts and the stress goes away. I feel contentment when the bees buzz by and the butterflies flutter from plant to plant.

I know my small urban plot of land will never provide enough sustenance for me and my family, but you know what? It fills me up just like a hug.

Three questions about spending time in/with nature

Curry with catnip. Photo by Tracy Lohman.

What do you think is the ideal amount of time for you to spend in/with nature?Everyday. I make it a goal to get outside at least once a day and move.

What does a meaningful experience in nature look like for you?
For me, a long walk on any beach. I love to hear the waves, smell the salty air, and look for otters bobbing up and down. I feel most at peace near the water.

Describe one moment in nature/outdoors that left you with a sense of awe and connection?
It was a bright moonlit evening in October on Paxson Lake when the ice was just starting to crust along the shoreline. Late at night, bundled up with headlamps over our fleece hats, we dropped set nets from the skiff. After waiting a few hours, we returned to pull the nets full of whitefish while a moose swam right past the boat under the full moon. There are no pictures of that night, but it is etched in my memory forever.

Tracy is Trustees’ development director. Her story is the fourth in a monthly series about how nature, getting outside, and being with land and water influences human health, resilience, connection, and purpose. Look for these stories in our monthly newsletters.

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