Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Hero and His Habitat - 20 Days in a Garden

This post was written by Jeff Smith, the gentleman that I introduced a few days ago in my article entitled Planting Peace – Finding Wonder in a Warzone, about people in military conditions who go to extra efforts to create gardens. In last night's post, From Ground Zero to A Garden, I spoke of Jeff's role on September 11, 2001, as he helped to search for survivors.

I asked Jeff if he would like to provide one more guest post, and this is what he sent. As you read it, I hope you will take the time to remember all of the heroes that this country has, both civilian and military, and to give your thanks to them either silently or in person.

Please keep in mind that this blog and these posts are not meant to take sides on any political issues. They are just meant to encourage you to think a little more deeply about the heroes of our country.

From Jeff Smith:

I'm so busy trying to get everything done that needs doing on a short 20 day break. I have several fronts that need attention, so it's easy for the days to slip between my fingers. Hope it's not too late … had a few thoughts for you.  

In the light of how little time I have home from Afghanistan this year, it's difficult to explain to some people why I'm spending so much time on yard work. After living like a prisoner in Afghanistan for months, shouldn't you be out kicking up your heels, whooping it up? Why in the world do you spend all your time doing YARD work? If I have to explain, they're not going to understand. Maybe I can share with some like-minded individuals who can help me come up with a sound bite that satisfies the vast unwashed, the non-gardening masses. 

What's so difficult to explain is that, every night as I fell asleep to the sounds of war, I was building this garden in my mind for months. I remember a couple of years ago at a FOB near the Tangi valley, as four and six inch guns fired overhead into the night, sucking the air from the tent with the round's sonic boom, I was thinking about my next group of nectar and host plants for certain species of butterfly. A worried new arrival asked me if that was OK. Is it incoming or outgoing? We had nearly 100 RPGs and mortars come over the Hesco at us that month, in the less favored direction. "That's the sound of freedom, buddy. Go back to sleep." I planted a few more vines in my head, arranging them around a horse fencing trellis supported by agricultural timbers. Beautiful. Rocked to sleep by the comforting lullaby of the Howitzer. 

We have long days there. Rise at 0230, shower, stuff something in the flight suit pocket for breakfast, check the flight plan, weather, preflight, airborne at sunrise. Will today be The Day? No. Stow that. 

It's a helicopter pilot's question. One can not stifle it. If you think of every possible thing that can go wrong in a helicopter, amplify that flying low over a fluid, motivated and capable threat, you can be paralyzed. One is empowered and fueled by a wave of positivity in the rotary wing world. It's not bravery or courage – just positive energy supported by confidence, competence and planning. 

After several hours of flying missions, plan for tomorrow, try to get the one hot meal for the day, wind down, prepare equipment for tomorrow. 

So now I'm home again, cutting weeds, trimming shrubs and trees, re-arranging irrigation, spreading mulch for winter. I'm setting aside the areas for spring plantings of nectar plants. A gopher tortoise has moved in and established a few giant burrows, so I'm working around those. I'll have to build some natural barriers to keep him from munching my tender new butterfly plantings and maybe plant a little tortoise food plot with prickly pear cactus and some other favorites. Any endangered species is welcome in this little backyard habitat. 

I go back over next week. I think I'll plan a pond.


  1. I love reading the posts by Jeff Smith. Thank you for sending them on to us.

  2. Thanks Eileen. He seems like a very special person.


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