The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

How is Ethiopia Reads like my garden?

I’ve been working on my lecture for the Vermont College MFA residency and one of my author/illustrator friends asked if it was going to have any gardening metaphors in it.


I wonder where she got that idea.

Sometimes creating books makes a body feel all glorified like the top of this sunflower getting ready, as I said in my last post, to wear its tiara.  Sometimes we feel impossibly tall and bursting with energy and new beginnings.

When I started volunteering for Ethiopia Reads about fifteen years ago, I was startled and amazed by how many people wanted to give their time and their money and their energy to help.  Beginnings are so exciting.  A lot of people–like this adoptive family–love books and wanted to share.  They’ve planted a BUNCH of seeds.  In fact, we’re working with more than sixty seedling libraries now.

This week in the garden, I was reminded that just as my lettuce came charging back this spring, a lot of unwelcome plants keep relentlessly charging into my space, too.

I like the relaxed and even unkempt look of a lot of Portland gardens.  But some weeds are just way aggressive.  I’m trying to learn to identify things by their leaves.  Clover is easy and I guess it brings nitrogen into the soil, so fine.  I have been known to transplant a bit of clover on purpose this week.  But is that stuff in the back yard wild geranium or Shiningstar Geranium, which my GardenSmart Oregon book says is invasive?

So I’m spending a lot of time out there.  Yesterday we yanked and spaded and wrestled weeds.  Do you know roots make a lovely slurping sound sometimes when they let go?

The planting was not easy.  Not one bit.

But without the tending, the beauty wouldn’t be able to keep shining through.

And so it is with Ethiopia Reads.

Turns out it’s not enough to just put books on furniture in Ethiopian public schools, important as that is.  It’s not enough even to hook up a donkey to a cart and invite readers to gather round.   Lots of careful, respectful listening and sharing has to continue for our literacy efforts to put down deep roots.

Sometimes, that’s not the fun work.

We’re kind of addicted to beginnings and plantings and saying, “Wow!  I put that there where it didn’t exist before.”  We aren’t so good with patience and endurance and all the work of keeping something going.

I’m proud of Ethiopia Reads for crafting each project–not doing mass work–and for being stubborn about asking good questions and figuring out how to make ideas bloom.

It’s hard, though.

Like with the weeding, it’s enough to make my muscles and mind ache.

But people talk these days about “human capital”…the parents and teachers and donors and communicators and kids who can join hands in figuring out how to make things work.  When things are done well, you see the beauty…like the pride that bursts through this picture, a first graduation in the school that Mike built and where I hope we’ll soon plant a new library.

Yay for those who plant and also for those who keep things going.  Shine on!

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