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Tending: The Need to Nurture

Brent and LeAnna Alderman StersteThere are no signs of spring here except for a vague stirring in our hearts. Always in spring, Brent’s heart turns to puppies (and rabbits and chickens and shaggy miniature donkeys). That’s why it is dangerous to send him off to the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association Massachusetts conference where he took some classes in rabbit and bee-keeping and only narrowly avoided coming home with a very-affordably-priced angora rabbit. Of course, Brent has good company in his longings. Now Ella, our 3-year-old, has begun praying a faith-filled prayer every night: “Thank you for my puppy and my bunny and my nice little kitten and my turtle and my farm.” Her favorite toys of late are a tiny rubber pet mouse and a hockey puck she pretends is a turtle. Even Mabel has begun wandering around the house saying, “Dog. Dog.” So far we have settled on the not-terribly satisfying compromise of a betta fish instead.

Sadly, this is the only dog we have!

After some discussion of Brent’s trip to the NOFA conference on Facebook, my uncle recommended we read a memoir called 40 Acres and No Mule written fifty years ago by Janice Holt Giles, who moved back to her husband’s homeplace on an isolated ridge in the western Kentucky hills. One of my favorite parts of the book is when, soon after moving, an older neighbor lady comes to visit and asks her what she plans to tend: chickens, a cow, a hog? Giles explained that between writing and farming, she would have little time for tending, but it wasn’t long before her neighbor showed up with a dozen chicks, and said, “As I told ’em, Janice ain’t never had nothing to tend in all her life an’ she just don’t know how a flock of leetle chickens’ll pleasure her.”

As Brent pointed out, we can’t even lay claim to 40 acres and no mule here. We are more like 0.126 acres, two crazy cats, and a small herd of worms on a cold-induced hunger strike. But despite our lack of land, we have been thinking a lot about tending. Lately we have begun to wonder if there’s not something in our soul that is made to tend. After all, it is the first job God gave people – to tend a garden. Since I quit my job to stay at home and tend our children, I have been surprised at the pleasure I get from simple things like baking bread, growing a garden, sewing, and learning to make the things we need from scratch. It seems tied to the root of the word tend: attend. To attend: to show up, to pay attention, to listen, to serve, to minister to. In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, maybe we need more tending to help us to slow down, pay attention, connect with nature and with God, and to get over our self-absorption and do things for other people. Maybe that is why we get such pleasure out of our pets (the nice ones at least) and our gardens and our baking.

So to all you tenders of gardens and chickens and children and dogs, may your spring be blessed. May we come by and pet your puppies sometimes?

Ella tends her winter garden.

shell bell
4/29/2010 2:37:57 PM

I was just reflecting this morning how the simple pleasure of puttering over newly sprouted peas, squash and cucumbers quiets the soul. The clasped palms of sugar peas pushing through the surface. The bowed backs of squash and melon stems lifting, with Hurculanean strength, to part the earth and lift seed heads up into the light... I couldn't put a word to the deep protective inner satisfaction and longing I felt in that moment. Something transcendently maternal. Thank you...for finding the word for me..."tending".


brent _1
3/1/2010 1:29:24 PM

Thanks very much for your thoughtful posts! For a fun follow-up on this, check out LeAnna's blog here: http://thewondersof.blogspot.com/2010/02/lesson-in-faith.html Happy March! It's almost Spring :)


nadine_2
2/28/2010 5:53:58 PM

Perhaps I could lend you a puppy or two for a week or two. :) The ferrets are easier, but definitely stinkier. Feel free to sample either though! For as long or as little as you would like!!


susan_7
2/28/2010 11:27:50 AM

Brent and LeAnna, Nice, thoughtful post. We don't have any kids, but we do have four pets, and if I didn't have them to tend to, I'd feel bereft and lonely. Tending to them, and to my human family and friends, and to our garden--all living beings--is what makes me rise each morning with hope and cheer. It's a happy responsibility. Alaska Susan


rodeo princess
2/26/2010 3:44:54 PM

You gave me a case of the warm and fuzzies. By nature, I am a tend-er, but not so tender - Lots of things thrive or suffer under my benign neglect. You reminded me of something I really miss - those years with babies of all kinds. We have the acreage you don't have, but you have that baby smell, those baby noises, those baby hands and feet. Lucky, lucky lucky you!!


jnemec
2/26/2010 1:44:05 PM

Thanks for this thoughtful post. It's full of truth. I can't believe how big Ella is getting. Seems like only yesterday we saw the first picture of her and laughed over her reading to her worms: http://www.grit.com/Rural-Legend/Worm-Composts-and-Children.aspx (They're kinda like a pet...) It's been almost a year! ~Jenn