Accidental Pastor – In Raina’s Garden

Raina with her daughter Lydia and son, Rory. Photo by Matt Donahue

I first set out to write about Raina’s garden for the gardening column in the last issue of the paper. Fortuitously there was not enough space that time to include the piece and we needed to table it for a few weeks. And too, I needed time for my thoughts to marinate and the universe gave it to me.

I met Raina Donahue when she was doing bookkeeping for the Brick Store. Our mutual friend, Polly, kept telling me that I needed to meet Raina. I love it when that happens, when your friends are so tuned in to you and who you are that they know who you will love. So, of course, I started running into Raina in funny places. I ran into her one day in Burlington at Lunaroma where we both confessed our weakness for essential oils and things that smell really good.

We eventually, after a stretch of time talking about it, made a plan to get together, and, of course, Polly was right. We became friends and thus began the interweaving of our lives: my sons have worked for Raina and her husband, Matt, washing windows in the summers; I made a website for their business; we sit and talk when we can and share our dreams; we are both enormously, begrudgingly gluten-free. I loaned Raina a dress when Carrie and Peter Fenn got married, and Matt and Raina have lent me their home when I needed shelter. Raina is generous with every part of her life and most especially with the things that grow in her magnificent gardens.

This doesn’t happen very often to me, but I am at a loss to describe the gardens that sit nestled in the lower field behind the workspace/cottage/building on their Greenbush Road property. They are well organized, pleasing to the eye and the nose; each year they are a little different and each year as the days grow longer and we get a taste of springtime, I begin to think about what Raina’s garden might look like this year.

I have the happiest memories of summer days when the window-washing crew would gather there and pick raspberries. Imagine, five or six tall and strong young men hunched quietly over berry bushes, quietly picking and eating, picking and eating. I think of Coco swinging on the swing up above the garden. I remember Raina telling me, “Stop any time you want and take anything you need; the garden is for everyone.”

You never knew who you might find there picking berries or vegetables or herbs. The times I stopped and no one was home, I felt like a thief, leaving with a basket full of treasure, though I knew I wasn’t because Raina meant what she said: her gardens and the bounty they produce are to be shared.

Why do we grow food, after all? To feed ourselves, yes. For the challenge, perhaps. For the magic, right? The magic of planting a seed and then waiting and watering and loving and … eating! We need food, of course, but food is also what brings us together, food is what strengthens our bonds to one another. For Raina, to grow a garden is an act of delight and kindness and charity. To work the earth so that it produces food to heal us and sustain us and flowers to delight us, and then to say to the world around you … take what you need … this is the simplest, most basic form of love.

When I spend time in Raina’s garden I am the grateful and lucky recipient not only of the end results of her masterful gardening hand but of her generous spirit that flows there through the fruits and vegetables, flowers and herbs. A garden as a way to build friendship, to spread kindness, to bring joy—this is gardening as art. If you need me this summer you may very well find me in Raina’s garden.