July 23, 2019

The Meaning of Life

Puttering Around

Note to Readers: Today marks the debut of a new feature on Garden Maine: Puttering Around. It is the place where Janine waxes on about things when the mood strikes. This first piece is dedicated to a special person. Read on.

The gardens at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor

Janine Pineo Photo | The gardens at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor

• By Janine Pineo •

Fortified with a roasted vegetable sandwich and chocolate cake, I stood in front of a roomful of women Tuesday afternoon and started talking about gardening.

I didn’t assemble notecards with prompts. I didn’t practice in front of the mirror. Instead, I thought about it as I whacked vines from the wisteria and puttered about the yard. I pondered it as I walked the dog at the nearby tree farm. I mulled it over as I drove to the Fedco Tree Sale on Saturday.

And then late Sunday, I got some news that devastated me. It was never far away all day Monday. By Tuesday, I knew I had to mention it because it was about that thing we all share: life.

Shrubs and gardens at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor

Janine Pineo Photo | Shrubs and gardens at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor

The invitation surprised me last August.

Would I speak to a group about gardening?

Well, that was a first. As long as I had been writing a column about gardening for the local newspaper, I had had but one query to speak to a group, but after I emailed the person back, I never heard another word.

Not that I strive to speak to people about gardening in that kind of setting. I write. Just me, the computer and those thoughts and images that have been building in my head until I simply have to share them.

The organizer for the Women’s Club, Caroline Tully, was all graciousness. She was probably more excited than I was and asked if I could pick a topic so she could put it in the calendar. I chose something about inspiration, broad enough to let me find a focus without backing me into a corner.

And by the way, it would be on May 7. Nine months away.

A lot of things can happen in nine months.

And did.

Among them was the fact that I was laid off from my job. In the process, I forgot all about my date with the club.

Then Caroline sent me a reminder last Thursday.

Insert look of panic here.

After hemming and hawing, I wrote Caroline back and by Saturday morning we had spoken. She was still excited to see me and said I should not worry but have FUN.

Yes, in all caps.

Gardens at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor

Janine Pineo Photo | Gardens at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor

My arrival outside All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor couldn’t have been sunnier, with blue skies above and flowers blooming with abandon in the well-tended beds. Caroline was waiting for me, and I couldn’t help but give her a hug as she came to greet me.

Any nerves I had were alleviated immediately when a number of the women attending came over to meet me and make themselves known. A kinder welcome I have never had.

We talked, we ate and then Caroline introduced me. I swear I blushed at the kind words she heaped upon my head. When she said she had a quote from me that she wanted to share, I couldn’t imagine what she would find worthy of quoting.

It was the line from my personal blog: “Meanderings and musings from the garden or its general vicinity, otherwise known as life.”

I stood up, knowing in my heart there was a path I wanted to take these folks on as I discussed what inspires me. It began by talking about my grandmother, a woman who has always practically lived in her garden. The outdoors is like another room in her house, welcoming and just a step away.

I spoke of my grandfather, the telephone lineman who was always proud that he had to climb a ladder to pick his pole beans. They all laughed at that.


Strange how the slow flow of glacial ice
becomes more visible from here, so far away.

— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) May 8, 2013


Then I mentioned Commander Chris Hadfield, who is currently on the International Space Station and tweeting pictures of Earth back to its inhabitants. I talked about how, from that view, we have more similarities than we do differences. You can see that as you look at this Earth. I spoke of how he can peer off into the infinity of space, while I stand here on Earth and look in my hand at that tiny little seed I am about to plant that will make its own world right in my garden.

Next was Glen Mittelhauser, a contributor here on Garden Maine, who has decided his life’s work is to catalog the flora in the state of Maine via the Maine Natural History Observatory. He co-authored a book on Acadia National Park a few years back in which they recorded the plants of the park. He is now working on doing the same for Baxter State Park. I marveled at the dedication of tramping about the Maine wilderness and decoding what plants are staring you in the face.

Heads were nodding in the audience as I talked about what a massive job that is and how incredible that someone wants to do that for the rest of us to benefit.
I took a deep breath and said there was, on this day, another person who inspired me. I told the group that I was a fan of “The Hobbit,” said that I was kind of Hobbity myself (a few smiles there) and said that on Twitter I had met a woman who also loved “The Hobbit.”

She was from New Zealand. And I worked up my courage to ask her a question that had been on my mind since last August when I was picking beans in my vegetable patch. I wanted to do a few New Zealand plants during the premiere of the movie and feature them in The Daily Plant. Just a week’s worth, I said.

The woman, Anna Paton, decided to take a few dozen photos of native plants at the nearby Auckland Botanic Garden for me. It was enough to do three weeks of plants and then some. I don’t have the words to describe how excited I was to get such a haul of unique flora to investigate.

Plus, I got to know this lovely person better. She was well versed in the native plants, although she claimed she was no gardener. She was kind and encouraging and she was happy to help.

I paused and looked around the room. Then I apologized and said I might start to cry. Because I had found out not two days before that Anna had died. It was cancer, something that had been a part of her life for a decade.

And I didn’t know. She didn’t want me to know. She went out and took pictures and sent them to me and answered my questions and all the while she was battling cancer.

I could feel my voice waver as I spoke of how much she wanted me to come to New Zealand and see the plants that excited me so. Right to the end, she was full of encouragement to me to chase my dream with my gardening site and my desire to share the best things in life with the people I meet by happenstance.

She inspires me, I said. To live.

For it is about life.