Dear Charlie,

Last week, the 13th (?) week of this pandemic’s shelter-in-place, you decided to carve yourself a space in our backyard and be responsible for it. You had plans: a garden plot on one end, a mini-golf putting green with some fake grass on the other.

For a whole week, Charlie, you were a machine! You got up at 8:00 (that’s super early compared to what had been your usual of 11:30) and got out there to weed, dig the soil, till, plant the seedlings, put borders along the plots, water, and, best of all, hang out with me. You averaged 3 hours in the morning and then some more in the early evening. Of course, you managed to negotiate these hours into screen time at an exchange ratio of 3:1. I didn’t let this bother me. You were outdoors. GARDENING!, and I was ok with the trade. Plus, I got to dig and hang out with you while your favorite podcasters, the guys from Stuff You Should Know, blathered about bizarre game shows, the genesis of the unabomber, voodoo, creepy folktales… It was a week of amicable and lighthearted times with you.


As I write this, I don’t know whether you will continue to garden with the same zeal. Already, the summer heat above 100 is turning you off from being outside. Your muscles have started to ache. The novelty of the project has worn off a bit.

But I try to be optimistic. I think about myself and my several failed attempts at gardening. It is just not one of those things that I developed a love for in my childhood days even though, all throughout my elementary years, gardening was part of our curriculum. I planted more than my fair share of pechay. I know this because we were graded based on our harvests and I, good student that I was, always got high grades.

So how come I don’t feel confident about gardening now? I get stymied when I look at “pretty” vegetable gardens: neat planter boxes with complicated irrigation systems and trellises. Nothing like the garden plots I had back then which were just basically a plot straight into the ground, watered from waters drawn from the Sawaga River where we would play soon after the gardening time. Sometimes, we skipped the gardening and went straight to the river to jump in the cool waters and adventure our way to the other side to harvest passion fruit. In that quiet valley, usually under the scorching sun, nothing else mattered.

How is love for gardening cultivated? In my case, it wasn’t enough to expose me to it through mandatory elementary school curriculum. Now in my 40s, with no grades to motivate me, I talk about starting a garden… but don’t quite manage to act on it. Or when I do, the plants don’t survive. When I’m hard on myself for not succeeding at gardening, I tell myself that I either have forgotten the valley’s lessons or maybe I never learned it.

But after I’m being hard on myself, I think of my valley experience and remember the feel of the soft cool soil newly turned by the dull bolo, the stench of horse manure we gathered from across the Sawaga River, the itch on the back of my neck where the sun nibbles on my skin, the wet hem of my uniform skirt after wading in the river… And what I really remember most is the expansiveness of the world, this great wide valley with the river rushing along the banks and bamboos swaying with the wind, and a tiny me feeling like I am where I am, part of the present, of creation, alive. Like I, too, have sprung up from the valley, wild, and reaching towards the sun.



So, Charlie, like I said, I don’t know how long you will keep up with this gardening and whether you will learn something from it. For now, I’m happy that for a week last week, you padded around the backyard with your bare feet, touched the ground, made friends with earthworms, smelled the compost, felt the sun on your brows… Maybe someday, maybe in your 40s, or earlier, or later, you will remember this time in your backyard with your mama, and it will move you along the path of reclaiming the wildness in you.

(Written in May, prior to the murder of George Floyd and the the BLM led uprisings)