Having just passed through a time traditionally filled with hope - for longer days, the hope the birth of Jesus brings to Christians, or for sticking with our resolutions - I was rereading an old New York Times article headlined, "Hope Emerges as Key to Success in Life."
I started thinking about what for me is the visible sign of hope for much of the winter: vegetable seedlings growing in a south window and under a skylight, and their connection with the year's garden.
Hope has two components: desire and the expectation of fulfilling that desire. We can't realistically hope we'll win the lottery. Although we may want to win, we can't legitimately expect to win, because of the long odds. One of the psychologists quoted in the Times put it this way: "For us to have hope, we need to have both the will and the way, or the means to accomplish our goal." We all know the way to eat less, spend more time with our children or to fulfill many other New Year's resolutions we may have made, but we have little hope of achieving our goals if we don't have the will, or desire, to do so.
The Times article reports that psychologists have found that a high level of hopefulness is a very good indicator of success in college, or of the ability to cope with stressful jobs or debilitating illnesses.
Hope is nebulous, and involves an attitude or a way of thinking. From these studies, it seems to be transferable from one area of life to another, from career success to coping with a serious injury, for example. In fact, flexibility is one of the primary attributes of hopeful people: the flexibility to find different ways to achieve their goals, or to change goals if hope for the current one dims. Hopeful people think about setbacks not as failures, but rather as challenges.
It seems likely that one of the ways to build a hopeful way of thinking, which can lead to greater success, is to have had some positive experience in fulfilling a desire, or achieving a goal - sort of like the chicken and the egg. Where do we start to find hope?
Hope seems to be in somewhat short supply these days, except in the stock market and among consumers, so let's get back to those seedlings.
I discovered long ago that one way to make the winter really fly by was to start seedlings for vegetables and flowers. Celery, pansies, foxgloves, onions, early cabbage, and delphiniums all need to be started in February for good production. In March, it's time to start broccoli, eggplant, lettuce, tomatoes, dianthus, dahlias, and some marigolds. Snapdragons, zinnias, salvias, leeks, and petunias, also do well if started in February or March.
By the middle of March, it's time to plant peas and early greens outside, and soon after, time to move some of the seedlings to larger containers or to the cold frame.
And once April is here, plants are sprouting, blooming and growing so fast, that they will absorb all the attention we can give them. After a summer and fall of eating and enjoying the results of February's effort, there are the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years holidays. Then it's January again, and time to start ordering seeds and preparing trays of soil for seedlings. However, next year, all this is done with the skill and knowledge from this year's garden, and with the expectation of success based on the previous year's experience.
Although many things can go wrong in the time between the tiny seed and the mature flower or vegetable, there are also many chances and many paths for success. If you miss the early broccoli, you can always start it in May. If you don't get to plant onion seeds inside in February or March, you can buy onion sets and plant them outside in April or May. The point is that with a little care, almost anyone can have success in turning the contents of small packages of seeds into delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers. Since most of us have a desire for good food or beautiful flowers, this activity has all the ingredients needed for hope - a hope which returns every year and increases with the previous years' successes.
I suspect that this aspect of gardening is high among the reasons gardeners are generally cheery, optimistic and resourceful people. It's also one of the reasons I recommend that you get directly involved with producing food and flowers in your own garden in 1998.
Happy New Year!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.