Army Sgt. Carl J. Quam Jr.'s garden in Iraq was about hope -- and home. During a year with the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion at Camp Speicher outside Tikrit, he and a buddy cultivated carrots, cauliflower, watermelons, cucumbers and sweet yellow corn in a plot that measured 30 feet by 30 feet.
It wasn't easy. The soil was sandy and dry; the hoses and sprinklers didn't work right. But the men were determined.
"We just wanted something green to grow over there. There was nothing," Quam said in an interview from his home in Tolna, N.D.
Planting, watering, weeding ... it was hard work after a day of hard work. Quam, a machine-gunner, was running four to six combat patrols a week in enervating 130-degree heat and monstrous danger. He dodged bombs to escort semitrucks filled with unexploded ordnance over treacherous roads.
"After a day on the road, when things didn't go exactly right or when they went wrong, which they often did, coming back to the garden was a huge stress release," he said. "It helped us forget what we were doing there."
The garden also gave the battalion fresh produce, which was scarce.
"We had so much darned corn. Everybody ate it," Quam said, calling that simple act "the enjoyment factor for us."
Being a farm boy from North Dakota, he took his homegrown food and hard work seriously before ever setting foot in Iraq. The corn reminded him of all that.
"Gardens offer peace," Helphand [author, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon in Eugene] says.
This holiday season, as misery seems to afflict the Earth from end to end, some might wonder: How can people so traumatized and exhausted from the struggle to survive possibly find the strength to plant potatoes and roses, lettuce and lilacs?
Helphand, and gardeners everywhere, know the answer.
How can they not?
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