The Ugly Underbelly of Life
A Mid-December Afternoon

The Spark That Was Russell Libby

I read in the New York Times this morning that Russell Libby died. I'd never heard of Mr. Libby until today but the headline said that he was an organic farmer and how often does the NYT's recognize the passing of an organic farmer?

Russell Libby was a farmer and he was from Maine. Both of those facts were all I needed to know to read on. When I was an angry teen growing up in Southern California and wishing to be as far away as possible from everyone and everything I knew, I would look to Maine as the ideal haven.

I'd contemplate a map of the States and zero in on San Diego and then look for the furthest destinations. Northern California was tempting with its redwood forests and rugged coast. Oregon, in my mind, was like Northern California to the tenth power and Washington, well, it wasn't far enough away. There was Florida, of course, but I really wanted to keep my experience with alligators and hurricanes to a minimum and besides, people always complained about the effects of humidity on the hair (not good) and I imagined Florida to be a humid place. 

Then there was Maine. Maine could be perfect. There was snow and ocean and farms and fishing and Nova Scotia and probably cranberries. I love cranberries. They had great accents in Maine. I'll bet Russell Libby had a great accent.

The thing about Russell Libby, the thing that touched me, was that his interest in growing vegetables began in grade school. Mr. Libby's fourth grade teacher handed seed packets out to her class. The thrill of growing a plant from a seed never left him. The article didn't say exactly that, but I know it's true. I know what it is to open a little pack of seeds with the picture perfect image of a beet or a carrot or a tomato on the front. I know what it's like to spill the contents into the cup of my hand and imagine the potential of each tiny speck. It's magic is what it is.

You never know what is going to open a child's heart. You never know what seemingly ordinary thing is going to take hold and guide their life. I find this thought as compelling as gardening; the thought of the spark that will set one's soul on fire. A child's mind is so like a seed. All of the raw material, the potential waiting to be nourished so it can blossom and thrive. It starts out not quite inert (both the seed and the imagination) and, with the right conditions, it grows and swells until it cannot be contained. What follows is a bursting forth; all of its youthful beauty exposed and fertile. It's exciting, it really is.

I have a small notenbook that I carry with me to write down things that I find here and there. In it, I taped a short clipping from a local obituary; someone that I didn't know:

"Barbara Lewis, his widow, said he'd always wanted to be a pilot. She said his mother told her that as a boy, he would eat his toast into the form of an airplane."

How perfect is that? How beautiful is that? The beginning of self-realization, the thrust and shape of one's life taking hold. These are the things that crossed my mind as I read about Russell Libby. I thought about how lucky he was for the spark to ignite at such a young age. He was passionate. He was an advocate. He had a purposeful life and a family and a garden. May we all be so lucky.



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