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Writing by Leslie Dock

Artwork by Greg Muenzen

For this Connecting with the Land, we take a slight detour from the typical advice-driven article to provide you with a glimpse into how our expert gardener first became enthralled with growing food. Join her inspiring journey from next-door-neighbor-who-eats-all-the-raspberries to gardener-for-hire-who-is-truly-tapped-in-to-what-our-earth-needs.

I love farmers, gardeners, growers – those who feel called to connect with the land and the plants that make it possible for us to inhabit planet Earth. 

Similar to parents of young children who meet on a playground, people who tend to plants have an instant connection fostered through a shared passion. I could meet someone new at a party who does something radically different for a living, something I have little interest in, and form an instant connection over a shared love of plants, shared stories of bravery picking hornworms off our tomato leaves and comparison of the dirt under our fingernails. 

People who tend plants tap into an ancestral network of human coherence with nature. There is something bigger and wider and older that we are wired into when we go from marveling at a fresh bouquet of flowers or relishing a homegrown tomato gifted from a neighbor to shepherding a plant from seed to fruit or flower. 

The bigger picture

When we step away from passivity and become active and intentional in our relationship with the plants around us, our world becomes both smaller and larger at the same time. It’s as if nature has an internet that it’s just waiting for us to discover. And once online, we may be a bit overwhelmed with the variety of species, fluctuations in climate and the sheer number of choices facing us, especially when it comes to something as seemingly simple as placing a seed in soil and watering it. 

Balance is inherent in nature, so when we garden, we are also gifted with a peaceful slowness and patience of vision; that same bouquet of fresh flowers suddenly contains a small universe of textures, colors, shapes and tiny insects. Once our eyes are open, it’s like, “Hold the phone. All this life and death and rebirth has been going on around me all these years and I am just now noticing?!”

Where it all began

My own journey toward “tapping in” started when I was about two years old. My first garden memory is of warm, soft soil under my feet and sweet, fresh peas in my mouth. My parents kept a small garden next to the garage on our little suburban Milwaukee lot. Our neighbor Mr. Wunder had, by far, the largest garden in the neighborhood. His prize raspberry patch was coveted by all who knew of its existence. While other kids lingered at the end of our driveway, leaning on the handlebars of their Schwinns, I was given full access to all the raspberries a kid could eat. 

Enter garden memory number two: standing in warm, soft soil, barefooted, raspberry juice dripping from my chin. The heavenly sweet-tart taste of raspberries lingered on my tongue. To this day, I can’t get enough fresh peas or raspberries. 

Fast forward a few years, and I am old enough to be sent to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house in rural Minnesota for a few sultry August weeks. I was raised as a suburban kid, and the wonders of 36 acres of woods on a lake with a pond and a huge garden were not lost on me. Looking back, two things stand out. One, the mosquitos! They don’t call them the Minnesota state bird for nothing. Two, the garden. Every morning, my grandma would tie on a wide-brimmed straw hat and journey down to her plot. 

Enter garden memory number three: standing at eye-level with dried poppy pods. I distinctly remember being drawn to their shape, unlike anything else in the garden. When touched, they made a delightful light rattling sound. Grandma explained that the seeds inside were what went into the most perfect baked good known to earth – Kolache, also known as a poppy seed roll. Grandpa was Czech, and our family version of Kolache was a sweet dough rolled out and smothered with sweetened poppy seed goodness, then rolled back up into a highly-coveted holiday treat. Seriously, I have seen fights break out over the “undemocratic” portioning of this stuff. Little did I know that, at the time, simply standing in Grandma’s garden would influence me to such a large degree much later in life. 

Venturing out into the world

Upon graduating from high school, I won a scholarship to Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, Minnesota. I couldn’t tell you why I applied, but a little voice inside told me to get outside more and explore. 

The 22-day trip had a profound influence on me. We traveled by canoe and portage over 500 miles of northern Minnesota and Canadian wilderness. I was damn tired for most of the trip – it was hard work, both physically and emotionally. 

It was also the first time I remember tapping into nature. My body spent, I was grateful to be still whenever possible. Without the usual distractions of teenage life, I started to notice small details about the world around me. We were taught to see the differences between many species of trees, how to camp without leaving any noticeable trace and how to be still enough and paddle quietly enough to calm a loon into letting us pass without diving under in fear. 

Although the initial impact of that trip was soon replaced with the business of everyday life, I can sometimes touch a piece of that incredible stillness I felt somewhere in the wilds of northern Minnesota, but only if I am very, very quiet. 

That feeling is the foundation of the current awe and fellowship I feel with nature. Amidst days packed with activity, running from one garden to the next, I am more practiced in my “tapping in.” After years of repetition, I am more facile at surrendering to the wonder of nature’s miracles, both big and small. 

Now that I am “online,” I find myself needing it, wanting it every day. That first seed successfully germinated has snowballed into an insatiable desire to grow all the fruits and vegetables I can in this lifetime. I am hungry to know about all the little facts and oddities and idiosyncrasies plants have to offer. Why? Because it feels good. Because homegrown food tastes so damn great. Because now that I am tapped in, I am aware of how much more rich life can be when I am connected to the natural world around me.

This article was published in the July/August 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.

Leslie Dock
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Leslie Dock is an accomplished freelance farmer, gardener, permaculture practitioner and educator based in Katonah. Originally from Wisconsin, she made her way to NYC to pursue a career in acting in 2001. After 15 years in the city and numerous vocations, she moved to Katonah with her family and discovered a passion for agriculture and gardening.

“I feel so lucky to live in Katonah,” Leslie says. “We have access to a small-town community and communion with nature and one of the greatest cities in the world. The only thing missing is a killer taco joint in town.”