Happy In The Garden

A few years ago, when I was just starting my second career, I was working two jobs downtown. Killing time between gigs, my peripatetic wanderings took me into Barnes and Noble. There I spotted an interesting book, Michel Richard’s Happy in the Kitchen. Though the culinary technique was as far over my head as loop quantum gravity, Chef Richard’s smiling Santa Claus-like visage immediately won my heart.

I flipped through the book and was taken by the obvious joy the man felt in his work. Here was a man, trained with all the formal gastronomic rigor of a French pastry chef, but who called his kit of tools his “toy box,” was willing to experiment with classic American comfort food, and used Saran wrap in ways I’d never even imagined possible. Above all, in every photograph he was grinning like a crazy man, clearly loving the art and invention, melding ideas from pastry work, American food culture, and his own ingenious mind.
I bought the book for Erica, a spontaneous thank-you for all of her support. The purchase of a cookbook for my wife is always fraught with uncertainty – all too many prove redundant to our already expansive collection. But “Happy,” as the book and the chef would both come to be known around our house, proved to be every bit as delightful to my wife as I had found it. But more profoundly, Chef Richard’s cross-discipline approaches and innovative techniques proved inspirational.
I’ve barely opened the book since that initial perusal at the bookseller’s new and notable counter. But “Happy’s” smiling Santa Claus face has stayed with me, as has the title of his book and another message that seemed to lurk in the text: if you take joy in what you are doing, that positive outlook will show in the quality of the finished product.
And so this past weekend, I am please to report, I had a real “Happy” time in the garden. Spring hit the Northwest, and for once not just in the astronomical sense as we passed through the Vernal Equinox on March 20. We actually had decent weather, with temperatures finally climbing into the 40’s and 50’s, clear skies and sunshine finally shouldering aside endless downpours, and seemingly the entire neighborhood wanting to get outside and take advantage.
I spent every waking minute I could out in the garden: building, wheelbarrowing, and shoveling.
At one point, our seven year old daughter was out helping me shovel mulch into some newly built beds (and earning back some toys confiscated as a result of some insufficient room-cleaning) when one of the neighborhood kids came by looking to play. Instead of insisting on abandoning her garden duties in favor of our neighbor’s expansive basement play room, Bella cheerfully recruited her younger friend as an assistant. So there I was, working along side two kids, shoveling the most beautiful soil in our yard.
Earlier in the weekend, while out front trying to get some starts transplanted, Erica was practically hounded by two neighborhood families, both thinking of starting their own edible gardens. By Sunday afternoon, one of them had brought home a stack of lumber and was ready to start building some beds.
Come Sunday night, I got to look back on a weekend full of accomplishment:
  • Two 4’x8′ raised beds built to replace the previous mounded beds in that location.
  • Said beds filled with existing soil, fresh compost, and mulch (thank you, little helpers!)
  • A bed for blueberries created.
  • Some extensive path reworking completed, finalizing architectural changes that started with our new perennial bed and our impending backyard orchard.
  • The irrigation system brought out of it’s wintertime slumber and prepared for use.
  • The greenhouse’s irrigation system rebuilt and replaced.
And even better than this checklist of accomplishment was knowing, as I drank back a glass of homemade blackberry wine on Sunday night, that despite some professional uncertainty, I had attacked every task with the joyful celebration and creativity of Happy. I had reveled in watching our giant soil pile slowly get distributed around the garden and the equally giant pile of wood chips (thank you, City of Edmonds!) get spread out into paths among our new beds. I had shared my wife’s excitement in welcoming more folks to the world of backyard (or front yard) gardening. I had ingenuously rigged a more accessible control for the greenhouse’s irrigation timer. I had busted out some trade with my sideline business. I spent quality time with my wife and the rest of my family.
Everything I did, I did with the spirit of Happy. I could see it in the results and I could feel it in my heart. I was Happy in the Garden.

Where are you happiest?


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