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COMMENTARY – The Impermanence of Everything

Courtesy of Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

Winter came early this year ushering in the end of the summer gardening season.  Tomatoes, herbs, and flowers vanished beneath the snow and won't reemerge until summer comes again. As I took my last walk through Barefoot Gardens (a CSA in Macomb) this year, I was especially mindful of how everything changes.  Always.  The end of the 2019 season marked the end of seventeen years that John Curtis and his family have made cultivating food and community the center of their lives.  I will miss the leisurely Saturday mornings after yoga in the garden and the solstice celebrations filled with amazing people and wonderful food.  But aside from being a bit sad, I am grateful for what John and Karen have given this community. 

When Michael and I arrived in Macomb twenty years ago, the Curtis’s were the only people we knew.  They helped us find a place to live in the country, not far from their first home on Bellingham Road.  A decade earlier John and Karen and I had been Peace Corps Volunteers together in the Dominican Republic where gardening and cooking together had been central to our lives. 

The first Barefoot Gardens on Bellingham Road was an oasis for our new family.  It gave our girls space to roam and other children to play with.  Perhaps more importantly for Michael and me as young parents, the gardens came with other adults to watch over and teach our girls.  The adults kept their eyes on all the children, especially our little Maren who had a tendency to run hell-bent towards the cows, ignoring the barbed wire fence standing between her and the “moos.”  Most of us were academics, having moved to Macomb because of the university.  I think we were all looking for a sense of community and family and the garden provided that and then some. 

As the years rolled by Sean Dixon, another dear friend from Peace Corps, moved to Macomb and the garden moved to its current location on West Adams Street.  Hoop houses were built, extending the vegetable harvest well into fall.  Weddings and graduations were celebrated as was the passing of our dear friend Sean.  Glasses were raised in joy and sorrow.  While John had planted thousands of vegetable seeds over the years, he had also planted the seeds for how people who in the beginning shared little other than a location could grow into a strong and nurturing community.

This community, our community has undergone a lot of change in the last several years; and much of it has been significant.  Yet walking through the garden that one last time swept away those feelings of being overwhelmed by change, because I understand that life is impermanent.  It’s hard to deal with impermanence in our lives – relationships and careers and houses that get messy. Thinking about the circle of life in a garden offers us a way to consider this through the lens of nature’s cycles. 

Cash Clay[1] writes that when things change, they often cease to be what we want them to be.  Just as we cannot go back to the WIU of the past, nor will I be able to spend my Saturday mornings harvesting blueberries at Barefoot Gardens. And you know what?  That’s okay.  Instead of feeling frantic about the demise my job or community, I choose to look for opportunities to make my new normal the best it can be.  Maybe that means welcoming a different type of student to WIU. 

And maybe, just maybe it means that I will build a little greenhouse in my own backyard and do a little gardening myself.  

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.