Believing own thoughts is genius

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Self-Reliance, 1841) says most of us don’t believe our own ideas are worth much.

“A man,” he says, “dismisses his own thought, simply, because it is his.”

Victoria and Carl are exceptions to this rule. Their backyard in the residential heart of Maple Ridge proves it.

“It’s big enough for a swimming pool,” says Victoria, “but, that’s not what we wanted.”

They didn’t want a lawn here either. We’re standing between raised garden boxes containing leeks, onions, peas, and other vegetables. There are rows of raspberry and blueberry bushes to our right, and a greenhouse behind us where seedlings are started. Victoria says the rising costs of food is behind all this, along with realizing that one’s backyard can be a place to let your imagination go free.

Carl prefers I omit their last name. He’s happy to chat with passers-by, but, “We don’t want to become an attraction,” he says, adjusting the filter of the pump in a fish pond.

“A week after he put that in,” says Victoria, “it was covered with mosquito larvae.”

Carl, who loves a challenge, had an idea.

“He bought a bag of feeder fish from a nursery,” says Victoria.

The fish ate the larvae until they were noticed by herons. Victoria found a plastic one.

“Herons are territorial,” she says. “They won’t land if they see one already.”

That left the raccoon that lived in a nearby tree. Carl searched the internet for advice. “Bafflers,” he says, pointing to three glass balls the size of oranges. “They’re fish floats.”

“Raccoons are mesmerized by them,” he says. “They’d get frustrated and leave, hence the name, bafflers.”

Victoria points to a water barrel at the side of the house. There are fish in it, too. The water is for the plants. “The raccoon can’t reach the fish, but it can drink. I guess there aren’t a lot of sources of fresh water.”

We examine another garden box – tarragon, basal, a few flowers, and spinach.

“We had our first eggs benedict with spinach yesterday,” Victoria  announces. When the peas are ready, the grand kids will eat them, or passing youngsters Victoria offers them to.

“Some kids have never seen a garden,” she laments.

The berry bushes run up to an elevated cabana with patio chairs and tables. “You can freeze the fruit for smoothies,” Victoria explains. “I make pancake syrup from it, too.”

There’s a Thompson grape vine beside the house.

“I dry the grapes on a tray-dehydrator. They make excellent raisins,” Victoria tells me.

She also dries tomatoes, and zucchini for soups. I do this with apples and offer to trade in the fall. Bartering needs to come back along the Fraser.

The grape vine clings to the wooden trellis Carl made. It arches over an oak wine barrel with holes for strawberry plants. At the west end of the lot stands a compost – rabbit manure, kitchen scraps, straw – and six rabbit pens with signs introducing the long-eared occupants: Taco, Fajita, Salsa, Enchilada, Timbits, and Shortcake, names that delight visiting children.

“Rabbits are great for the compost.” Victoria grins. “And sometimes, we get a litter of Fajitas, or Salsas.”

There’s a story about Taco. “When he was born, he fell out of the nest,” Victoria begins. “His mother ignored him. He was cold. I automatically tucked him down my bra and forgot he was there, between my boobs … until he started to move. It was the warmth, I guess. Taco thinks he’s a puppy now, very social, loves everyone. He’s the only one that’ll come when you call.”

The pond’s water pump is badly clogged. “I’m constantly cleaning it,” Carl complains, “since we added some sand to the pond.”

“He’ll find an answer,” Victoria says. The comment reminds me of Emerson again. Self-reliance, he said, is the enemy of conformity.

Sometimes, there’s an event in life that releases our individuality. I wonder if this was so for Victoria and Carl.

Victoria says they had good jobs with a big corporation. Then, without warning, the cutbacks came.

“Losing a job was a slap in the face. We were in our 50s. How were we going to survive without two incomes? We thought our life was gone.”

Before long, however, they were seeing their backyard as an opportunity to adjust and move forward. Garden ideas began to take shape.

Victoria says she and Carl accepted the challenges a garden posed, along with those presented by suddenly being out of work.

“Carl reinvented himself,” says Victoria. “He’s an electrician. He’s got all the life skills. He took a welding course. He’s busy.”

Victoria had raised a family, and worked hard for 22 years. After aptitude questionnaires that might have sent her back to another corporation, she decided she had other goals.

“I wanted to stay home,” she says, “doing the things we prefer to do, instead of what we were told to.”

Emerson would approve. “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within,” he said.

Going down your own path is genius.

• Have a story idea for Jack? Put story idea in the subject line of an email to: jemberly@telus.net

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