A Gardener Poet and Okinawa Elders

Dahlias with going to seed grass and parsley

Dahlias and grass  arrangement

You might wonder what a poet laureate of the United States and the elders of the Japanese island of Okinawa have in common.  Simply that gardeners live longer.

Whether you are growing vegetables in a p-patch or tending a backyard perennial border, evidence suggests the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of working the land are an “age old” fact.  In Japan on the island of Okinawa researchers have studied the island elders, especially those folks who have made it to one hundred.

According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, “…almost all Okinawan centenarians grow or once grew a garden. It’s a source of daily physical activity that exercises the body with a wide range of motion and helps reduce stress. It’s also a near-constant source of fresh vegetables.”

Balloon Flower

Balloon Flower

Buettner adds, “…older Okinawans have eaten a mostly plant-based diet most of their lives. Their meals of stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu are high in nutrients and low in calories. The vine, Goya aka “Bitter Melon” (Momordica charantia), with its antioxidants and compounds that lower blood sugar, is of particular interest. While centenarian Okinawans do eat some meat, it is traditionally reserved only for infrequent ceremonial occasions and taken only in small amounts.”

***

Throughout his long life of 101 years (1905-2006), Stanley Kunitz created poetry and tended gardens. A small book, The Wild Braid:  A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, was published a year after he died. The book grew out of conversations between Stanley and Genine Lentine, also a poet. Many of their talks took place during daily rounds at Stanley’s seaside garden in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

The Round

Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed…”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

—Stanley Kunitz from The Collected Poems, 2000.

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