Jesse Cogan’s Time at Spiral Gardens

Jesse Cogan

When I started working at Spiral Gardens, I couldn’t grasp how influential the work would be in my life. When I first arrived, I didn’t know what to expect. I was quiet and reserved around the other volunteers and staff members.  They all seemed to know each other and I felt very out of place. I was given a task and I worked shyly yet diligently at one end of the garden. As I transplanted herbs from smaller to larger pots, I looked out on the garden. Everyone mingled and chatted as they tended to different beds of fruits and vegetables. I wanted nothing more than to be able to be one of those people talking amongst themselves, but I couldn’t find the courage to go up and talk to anyone on the first day.

I came back the next week determined to talk to some new people. I figured if I was going to be putting lots of time into this project, I should at least make some friends. So, slowly but surely, I started to talk. I asked questions about the different plants and as I engaged with others, I began to feel much less scared. I was surprised at first that all of these adults would want to talk to me, but as it turns out they really did. As we talked, I began to open up and so did they. These people that seemed unapproachable turned out to be some of the nicest people I had ever met. They welcomed me with open arms, fully willing to show me the ropes of not only gardening but also being part of their community and the world in a larger sense.

Over the course of a few weeks, working at the garden no longer seemed like something I had to do, but something I got to do. As I drove to the garden every week, I always anticipated what I was going to do and who I might meet or make deeper friendships with. It was with that attitude that the work I was doing became truly meaningful. It was about something larger than myself. I belonged to a group of people all with one common goal, working towards keeping the garden up and running, while also looking out for one another. By the end of my time there, the people who I was nervous to talk to in the beginning became people who I now feel incredibly comfortable around. Now, I have a group of friends who I know going forward will greet me with a smile and look after me, just as I would do for them. That is what I believe the work was truly about. It’s not entirely about the plants in the garden or checking your community service hours off, but instead, it’s about making connections with people you would otherwise not get to know.

While the connections I made were incredibly important, I also learned a lot about myself. I have always been someone who has been drawn to the outdoors. Ever since I was young, all I wanted to do was get outside and see the natural world. Since COVID has kept us inside for about the past nine months, I began to feel that I was losing my connection with the outdoors. Even though nature was still accessible, I found it difficult to get out of my house. As time passed, I realized that I would go days without leaving my house and getting a breath of fresh air. When I started to work at Spiral Gardens, that changed. It forced me to get outside and do something that had a real purpose. I was able to experience the outdoors in a way that I hadn’t been able to previously.

I have worked landscaping jobs for the past few summers, and don’t get me wrong I had a great time, but there was something about it that dulled the experience of working with your hands. Over the course of my time working in the garden, I was able to experience manual labor differently. It was no longer about making money and trying to get it done as fast as possible. The focus had shifted to simply enjoying the work in the first place. As I worked, I thought about what it all meant to me and, as I processed everything, I concluded that being outdoors is something crucial to my being.

The garden served as a perfect reminder that whether the dirt is in my hands or under my feet, it’s something that makes me incredibly happy and fulfilled. In the end, I realized that this work is not simply about fulfilling a requirement, but it’s about finding part of yourself as well as a community.