wonderroot cg sign-001(Note: Pardon the formatting/paragraph breaks, etc. I’m having some technical difficulties and am trying to fix.)
Five years ago, in the winter/spring of 2014 when I was still knee-deep in my Around Atlanta in 180 Days project as a result of my family’s life dramatically changing, I somehow fell upon this place named WonderRoot while Traveling at the Speed of BikeIts excellent website boasted lines such as “uniting artists and community to inspire social change” and “we believe that artists have the potential to change the world.” Let’s just say it caught my attention.
You know how I feel about the arts, and my street photography project made it especially clear to me that a daily life without arts immersion and expression is simply not worth living. So I toured the place and discovered a ceramics studio, a dark room, a recording studio, a media lab fully-loaded with all the graphic programs I couldn’t afford, a performance space that saw action at least five nights a week, and more. What was most shocking was that all of this, including Artists Teaching Artists classes, was free for members. And membership was a mere $60 a year for an individual/$100 for a family.  Plus, there was one of the most innovative projects in the nation matching emerging artists with collectors (an art CSA based on the Community Supported Agriculture model, but this one is Community Supported Art), where collectors paid a set price and got boxes of original art throughout the year). But something nagged at me. Nagged. Nagged. Nagged. Kept me up at night. Invaded my waking thoughts. Got under my skin. Tugged. Pulled.
It was the garden. Or, should I say, the bones of the garden, the intentions. A garden on the property was currently completely overgrown, unloved, and abandoned. Yet its energy was palpable.

I asked about it. Folks seemed hungry for someone to “take it on.” And I knew I had the skills that were needed.  Yet . . .

I was burned out on group gardening (however extraordinary some of it had been). I was burned out on group anything, if you wanted to know the truth. I just like to run with things. To experiment. To learn. To invite folks along on the journey. To set and reach goals joyfully. To have fun and to trust the journey. Would there be a way to do this in this artsy, intown garden environment? Could this one be different from the time I poured my heart into something and my wings got clipped? I wondered.

I went back and visited again. This time, I spent two hours clearing out the leftover garden debris in the beds and cultivating the soil. Two folks I didn’t know helped almost silently. It was nice.  

I wanted to see the underlying essence of the place. To feel the intentions of those who came before, and to be sure to honor them in whatever I did. I found the edges of the beds and the lines of the paths. I uncovered a sculpture. And the whole time, I thought to myself, “How could we keep this simple?”

That’s about when the developer showed up. Seemed this piece of land did not belong to WonderRoot and it was slated for development. It may actually stay a garden as part of a bigger (and very exciting) local food plan. (A very popular restaurant named Homegrown is directly across the street, where there is a gorgeous chef’s garden, and my friend Robby, the Johnny Appleseed of Atlanta, showed me street fruit trees on that block.) Timeframe was nebulous, but it felt like perhaps there was one growing season remaining before big change. And that would be right then.

I tossed seeds. I left. I slept on it. I wrote a project description and submitted it as what I was willing to do, worded as something that could be shared with WonderRoot members. I hadn’t really gotten a go-ahead on this, but I’d already learned not to wait for approvals when I am willing to volunteer to do something, but rather to just find the aperture of opportunity (to make a street photographer reference) and take it.

I went back again. Even with a polar vortex and bitter cold, some of my seeds had sprouted. A guy I met there who was doing community service for a speeding ticket was happy to toss the compost and rake the leaves into a nice, usable pile.

I went inside and said hi to the arts center manager, Jess Bernhart. I experimented with the graphics programs in the media lab, made note of the upcoming Intro to PhotoShop class, and picked up a brochure. But I kept thinking about that garden.

I next sent an email about wood chips — could we get them dropped off by a tree company so that paths could get mulched by anyone who wants to help? Is there a way to get two wheelbarrows? A pitchfork?

It didn’t take much to have this living art exhibit up and running. Jess sent out my note (reprinted below). People came. Things happened. I stayed a season, and the garden lasted in some small form for a couple of seasons after that.

a gardening journey for artists/January-May 2014, as desired
There is no one journey in a garden. For artists, the journey can be particularly rich, not only in potential garden bounty but in the bounty of inspiration that can occur. Gardens can:
  • Enhance creativity through observation and experience with the rhythms of nature;
  • Serve as subjects or settings;
  • Provide natural art supplies such as dyes and fibers;
  • Open up portals to experimentation that help break through barriers in artistic expression;
  • Surprise and challenge in ways that can be translated into art;
  • Relax the mind and body to enable it to focus more fully on artistic expression;
  • And forge relationships that can lead to artistic collaboration.

Our garden at WonderRoot has been cleaned up in preparation for the new year, when the earth will start awakening again in Atlanta’s long growing season.A new member, Pattie Baker, is a writer and photographer as well as a seasoned organic gardener. She is stewarding one or two beds in the garden for one growing season–January through May. She invites you to join her out there on your own Awakening journey.  She will be in the garden on Thursdays from 12-1:30 PM, observing, photographing, writing, and gardening, There are 6 other beds available, if you want to be a steward as part of the Awakening project as well, or you are welcome to just come and experience the garden as part of your artistic process. (Spreading mulch is very meditative!)

This is not a class. It is a self-guided journey shared with other artists.Although there is no curriculum, you will most likely “learn as you grow.” There are no metrics for success, other than what you deem it to be for your personal or professional efforts. There is also no budget provided for any garden inputs you may require, although Pattie can tip you off to some free or affordable sources for many common supplies such as compost and seeds. What there IS is an extraordinary natural resource right outside our door just waiting for you,
One of the bigger objectives of this small, loose project is to see if there is any “groundswell” of interest in gardening in our membership. If so, we may explore ways in the future to meet member needs through the integration of this natural resource. “Awakening” is a low-stress, low-commitment way for you to try out the garden as part of your artistic experience.
Please let Jess know if you are interested in stewarding a bed. They are available first-come, first-served.
Here is poem I wrote that first spring, while sitting right in the garden, about my experience there:
the awakening
the nothing happening,
the no one here,
I stand completely still,
like a hare,
and share
the slow unclenching,
the subtle way
the earth
under my feet
a mere suggestion
of a path
takes me nowhere,
and everywhere,
at once;
I laugh.
radishes fatten;
an orange-breasted robin flits
and sits;
lemon drops 
of dandelions
a sock,
a beer can,
a coffee cup,
a plastic bag,
a knife;
all leave hints
and fingerprints
of life.
a symbiosis
of host and hosted
every newly-pulsing 
edge that had, 
just yesterday,
seemed old
and dead;
wonderous roots,
pea shoots
stacks of tires,
tired of winter,
bask in the sun.
the awakening has begun.
Here are related posts:

Earlier this year, Wonderroot partnered with the City of Atlanta, the Super Bowl 53 Legacy Committee, and artists to develop and create a series of murals called Off the Wall about civil rights and social justice within a mile or two of Mercedes Benz Stadium (where the Big Game was held this year in Atlanta). I worked with Bicycle Tours of Atlanta to interview the majority of the artists and develop a tour. It was an extremely rewarding experience. Here is a post about it.

After accusations of abuse, racism, and more of the founder and leader of Wonderroot emerged earlier this year, followed by an attempt at different leadership, Wonderroot announced yesterday that it is closing down completely.
And so, that’s that.
My next awakening awaits.