There’s a sign posted near the metal racks in his heated garage — the garage where Harvey Hesse will soon be hauling many of the perennial plants that have been growing in the nine different garden plots spread across his spacious backyard. The sign lists “Garden Rules,” including:
■ Get Dirty
■ Relax and Pull Weeds
■ Listen to the Birds
■ Enjoy the Beauty
These are rules Harvey has followed to create a satisfying life, with gardening and family and friends at the center.
At 80, Harvey is one of just six men in the 30-member Minnesota River Valley Master Gardeners group. He took up gardening at the urging of his late wife, Beverly, well before persistent back problems forced him to give up his dairy operation nearly three decades ago.
Despite using a walker, Harvey has devised a system that still enables him to “get dirty and pull weeds.” As for “listen to the birds and enjoy the beauty” — all he has to do is walk outside his cozy house and take in what lies before him. But sometimes, he will go farther.
I profiled Harvey and his personal “Eden” in a July 28 Free Press article with photographs of the “park” that lies beyond the garden plots. The park is a 65-acre nature area Harvey and his friend Ron Winter have created adjacent to his homestead. It includes forested stands along the Le Sueur River and restored native prairie. When Harvey really wants to get away, he simply hops on his lawn tractor and drives a hundred yards or so down into the park. Then he shuts down the tractor: “I go for the quiet,” he smiles.
“The Quiet.” Sometimes it seems, these days, it’s hard to find the Quiet.
For me, maybe for you, too, fall is a season of contemplation and reflection. Time to seek the Quiet. Especially after the first frost, I like to go out on our deck, observe the changing colors, sniff the crisp air, listen to our walnut tree — Autumn’s drummer, I call it — as it intermittently drops all its heavy green fruit to the ground. Pum-pum-pum, pum-pum-pum, they thud softly onto the grass. (I have complained in previous articles about having to pick up bushels full of walnuts for the compost.)
The catbirds and mourning doves will have flown, but hopefully the cardinals and chickadees will stay. Of course, the sparrows will remain. As I become wistful for the fading season and wonder how much snow and brutal cold the coming winter will bring, I will say I am sorry that I complained in mid-July when it was 90 and the dew point was 80 and the heat index was 110.
I also will hopefully contemplate another thing that Harvey Hesse told me and my wife, Jeanne, in July as we sat at his dining room table after several hours of touring his gardens and park. He said how happy he has been with his life, a life more rich in beauty than in possessions, and that he lives by his own version of the Golden Rule: Treat people like you want them to treat you.
New studies have indicated there are great mental health benefits associated with simple gratefulness. Those of us living in greater Mankato do have plenty to be grateful for — a pleasantly livable community, with a diverse economy and plentiful cultural opportunities (silo painting, anyone? Rock Bend Folk Festival, anyone?). And while winter can be harsh, somehow, I believe it’s a factor in repeated studies that list Minnesota as one of the healthiest states. (Perhaps exercise due to snow shoveling helps!)
So along with skiers and skaters and snowmobilers and those who sell shovels and snowblowers, I need to cultivate a gratefulness for winter: Let’s see, we seem to pull together more to help one another in winter ... It enforces time spent in a cozy place reading a good book ... Hmm, let me work a little on gratefulness for winter!
Meanwhile, while summer endures, I’ll be heeding some of those gardening maxims I jotted down in Harvey’s garage. I’ll be heading out to listen to the birds and enjoy the beauty. I may not have my own park like Harvey’s, but there’s lovely public spaces like Sibley and Rasmussen and Williams Nature Center. Still time for a walk in the woods.