Seems I’ve always been a gardener. My earliest garden memory: building rock gardens with Mom when I was a wee one as my two older sisters went off to school. Warm spring days found the two of us collecting pebbles, stones and rocks to add to our backyard “garden.”
Mom always had a vegetable or flower garden, or both. And she was often found “piddlin’ around” in one or the other, clothed from head to toe in order to ward off the array of pests found in the Connecticut landscape. Even as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis nagged her, she found respite toiling away on her hands and knees. She would often say, “If I can’t work in my garden, I might as well be dead.” She continued to work that New England soil up until her death from cancer at 79.
Gardening is in my blood. So, when hip issues, ultimately leading to a hip replacement, sidelined me for two years, I felt I was missing out on an important part of life — losing my balance in more ways than one. Luckily, my husband, Bill, discovered his green thumb and worked steadily to keep our yard in bloom while I watched from the front porch.
In order to add my touch to the garden and to get my creative juices flowing during this “downtime,” I set about making a peace pole to be placed amongst the flowers. I’d seen many prefabricated garden poles which I’d admired. However, I felt that if I painted my own, I could include inspiring words and paint designs from nature...all in the hopes of bringing the gift of peace, love and joy to my garden.
A friend in town just happened to find three beautifully turned, antique newel posts in her barn. Chunks of white paint were embedded in their grain, and they seemed to have survived a fire, as indicated by the deep, black scorch marks. These three posts were survivors, and my friend and I made a deal that, if I prepared them all for painting, I could keep one for my own.
Bill and his electric sander provided much of the muscle needed to sand off the soot and chunks of paint. This was just the beginning of the prep process. Being able to stand and move a bit at three months post-surgery, I took over from here, filling in the deep gouges with putty and then re-sanding. Once the gaping trenches of grain were as smooth as possible, it was time to whitewash each pole with many coats of white primer.
Throughout this preparation process, I pondered the fact that we are all creatives — whether we're creating art, a story, a new recipe. Maybe we're planning a garden, growing food from a seed, building a shed, or creating an ornament for the garden. Whatever we create can be a pathway to balance as long as we're mindful of the process.
So often, we go about our daily business, no matter what it may be, without realizing that we are actually creating. As I became more mindful to what I was making, I began to re-find my balance. I was in the flow. Not only that, but I was immersed in nature and dreaming of the future, to a time when I would get back on my hands and knees and toil in the soil just like Mom.
The whitewashed pole became my blank canvas. It was time to begin collecting words and ideas as inspirations for this garden pole. I hope you’ll check back soon for Part 2 of my report on this project. I spent five months getting this pole painted and ready for the garden, where it proudly stands today.
Have you caught yourself in mindfulness during the process? I'd love to hear about it.
Barbara Hengstenberg is the founding artist at WildesArt and North Carolina Arts Incubator Board Member. When she’s not in her garden, Barbara writes a monthly “Let's Create!” column for Southern Neighbor Newspaper. Connect with her on www.WildesArt.com, her website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
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