It’s been quite a ride watching the news covering the COVID-19 virus spreading through China, then Europe, and now the U.S.

The first news shocks have come, the grocery stores are all out of toilet paper, and my sons Spencer (15) and Liam (11), are now home from school. After a little scrambling around, we are set up for remote learning and a virtual classroom. We have a good supply of food, family close by, friendly neighbors, and I’m able to work from home.

So, I know we’re awfully lucky…

We have everything we need in our new home, I have a strong and healthy family and I have a garden.

In the midst of creating new routines with my kids during this global crisis, I discovered a piece of ancestral wisdom in the garden…

Yesterday, I sent the boys out into the backyard to play and do some chores (and get the jiggles out). I started doing the spring cleanup—raking up the leaves that had blown into a corner of the yard, sorting pots, pruning, cutting back dead stalks of karl forester, and pondering what will grow best for us this year. And I was singing! Couldn’t be happier.

Years ago, this same garden where I was now trying to cope was Opa’s garden.

It’s only been five years since my sons’ grandfather passed away.  He was from Holland and survived WWII. We called him “Opa,” which is Dutch for Grandpa. He was a man of many skills, self-taught in a number of subjects, and he used to love to lecture on pretty much everything.

I loved his lectures.

We’d talk endlessly about the garden. As a family, we’d visit many other gardens together:  the Colorado Railroad museum’s train garden, the Denver Botanical Gardens, and my favorite, the xeriscape garden at Kendrick lake, in Lakewood, a southwest suburb.

In the early 2000’s, Opa found every brochure on xeriscaping and permaculture he could.  He would pour over his gardening books with a magnifying glass at night and putter in the garden ALL THE TIME.

“Here, you see this?” Opa waved one of his xeriscaping brochures around, slightly irritated.  “This is what people should be doing! Not all these lawns! Leave the leaves on the ground!  They’re mulch!”  I nodded my head in agreement. After all, I was learning xeriscaping techniques for our own yard.

As Opa pointed out, all the waterwise plants and native species have done so much more for the environment than lawns. 

Waterwise and native plants have provided food, habitat, and air quality improvement. After all his work on implementing waterwise and native plants, Opa’s garden is now filled with birds and squirrels.

It’s been 20 years since he showed me those brochures, and, still, there are a lot of lawns in the Denver area. There are a lot of trees, too, but there’s plenty of room for more.  Whatever the upcoming months and years have in store, our family is going to follow in Opa’s footsteps and do its part.

In the back of Opa’s garden, Spencer was digging a couple of holes for small trees we had planned to plant. I watched him go after the soil with the vigor of a 15-year-old who just got out of a class called “Work ‘Dem Muscles” for PE.

I went back to helping Liam clean up leaves when he stopped, turned to me with his big, deep brown eyes and said, “Do you know where Opa is?”

I thought about it, a poignant reminder of where our society is with this pandemic and said, “Heaven.”

He thought about it for a second, and said, “Well, yeah, I know that!” He pointed to one of the tulip greens coming up and said, “But, he’s also here every year when the tulips come up!”

Indeed, kiddo, our ancestors are here every year.

The bodies of our ancestors are part of the earth now, their souls are in heaven, and, still, they are with us in our memories no matter how isolated we may feel in this pandemic. 

I hope our ancestors will reflect to us, someday, how this crisis was a time when everyone came together to figure it all out. It’s our time to go inward, get some reflection, connect with nature, and remember where we came from and where we will return. I hope Opa will smile and tell us he saw how we met our neighbors with kindness and generosity.

The boys finished their tasks and went back inside. I took the opportunity for a little gardening therapy. I made the appointment to meet with the deva of the garden, planted wildflowers and onions, mulched with leaves, and sent deep prayers for the future.