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July 21, 2005

Effortless Gardening


[Woman clipping flower in garden]Gardening is surprisingly hazardous work. It seems peaceful enough at first glance. When you think of your mother or your aunt out in her garden, you imagine a woman in a wide straw hat and a flowery apron, laying just-cut roses into a wicker trug or encouraging her clematis to follow the line of the trellis. But gardening is messy and, dare I say it, even violent, and that goes for beginners and experienced gardeners who should know better. In the last year, I have done the following to myself in the garden:

> Pulled so hard on a thorny weed that it popped loose and flew, full force, into my eye

> Walked right onto the tines of a rake, causing the handle to smack me in the head

> Hit my finger so hard with a hammer that it raised a blood blister I was afraid to even look at for a week

> Dropped a bag of potting soil into the path and promptly tripped over it, spraining my ankle

And that doesn't count the splinters, bug bites, sunburns, unexplained bruises and sore muscles in places where I didn't even know I had places -- all of which surface when I sink into the bath, moaning, at the end of the day.

You'll notice that all of these wounds are self-inflicted, even the bug bites, which I bring upon myself by not wearing the right gear and not checking for spiders before I reach into some dense undergrowth where I can't see anything. You'd think that after all these years, I could find a way to get through a day in the garden without hurting myself, but instead I've just accepted that gardening is a ruthless, brutal sport. Gardening isn't pretty. It's dirty. It leaves scars.

The problem is that this form of hazardous gardening can have the unintended consequence of keeping you out of the garden. I have injured myself so badly that I've had to stay out the vegetable beds for weeks at a time. In fact, I finally got into the weight room at the gym when I realized that I was simply not strong enough to keep up with my own garden. If I couldn't haul a thirty-pound sack of manure around, what good was I?

So I've gotten better, but I still have a ways to go. And help is available: Cathy Butler is teaching workshops this summer called "Effortless Gardening" that are all about finding ways to keep your next day in the garden from being your last.

Butler is a certified Feldenkrais Method practitioner. This means -- what does this mean, exactly? Feldenkrais seems to defy explanation; Butler was only able to say, "Each lesson is a series of movements. The movement lessons themselves are like nothing else I've experienced. Most, if not all, of them are on the floor. They're pretty small, gentle movements. It's a learning method, not a therapy or a treatment. Is it like yoga? No, it's not stretching, it's not strengthening, it's not poses. Is it like Tai Chi? Well, no, it's not a form. You'll be working on giving your nervous system a way of finding more efficient ways of moving. The lessons are based on how our skeletons are set up to move, to remind us how to do things more easily."

She'll apply this to the garden by using a program developed by another practitioner named Miriam Levenson. "The setup is that we'll be in my studio, and the garden is right outside," she said. "So we'll do a movement lesson inside, then we will be going outside and actually pushing a lawn mower, maybe digging a little dirt, so people can see how they can do things differently. Now, I wish I could get a lot of work done in my yard that way, but I don't think it'll turn out like that," she added, laughing.

The next two workshops take place over two days, August 6 and 7, from 12-3:30 on both days. The first session will be on using garden tools and equipment (Hint: Don't leave rakes lying around), and the second will be on working close to the ground. You can enroll in one workshop or in both of them; registration is $40 per workshop if you sign up at least 10 days early, or the full price is $55 per workshop. The classes take place in McKinleyville. To find out more, call Cathy at 839-0319. And -- hey -- be careful out there.


garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.


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