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Breaking the Tenth Commandment

Today, my good friend Anne sent me a picture of something her daughter discovered growing in the garden and asked me to help identify it (Trillium erectum).

A few days ago, she wondered if one daffodil could turn into twenty-five daffodils naturalizing in the garden over thirty years. We debated via email the differences between a bulb and a bloom, what bulbs squirrels will and will not eat, and mathematics.

Anne used to live down the street from me. Our kids were best pals, our families had an open door policy (no knocking, at least during daylight hours), even our dogs had playdates. I liked to garden, Anne liked to paint, and we spent hours talking about the subtle differences between Shaker Beige and Lenox Tan and why her Wisteria floribunda needed so much pruning. We even arm wrestled after debating whether or not demolition of interior walls or mulching flower beds made our biceps bigger and arms stronger. (Guess who won.)

But Anne moved when her husband got his dream job teaching and coaching at his alma mater. She and her girls and dog had to go with him.

Anne is a writer. She’s worked at the Washington Post, she’s written for trade magazines, she writes grants, she’s freelanced covering topics from medical coding to education. But her newest gig is writing, of all things, a gardening column for the local rag.

I cannot really say that I’m jealous. Her “local rag” is in western Massachusetts, not somewhere I’d enjoy living year-round (cold weather, funny dialect, Patriots fans). Her column only appears every other week and is not above the fold or in section A or anywhere her writing might get her on a short list for a Pulitzer Prize. I don’t think she gets to choose her topics. (Apparently the garden club ladies in Massachusetts are very precise about how and what they want covered in the paper.)

But she’s getting paid to write about what I love. How can that be?

And not that Anne isn’t a gardener or garden enthusiast or one who likes plants and dirt and doesn’t mind wiling away the day digging and finding and tending. But she didn’t spend four years studying, memorizing hundreds of Latin names, learning why plants thrive in some places and not others, researching replacements for invasive plants, or poring over conifer needles to determine the subtle differences between species of pines, firs and spruces. If the world is indeed an ordered place, I should be the one raking in the big piles of money writing a garden column.

But as I ponder and peck away, I recall that I did not study journalism or creative writing and took only the minimum English and Literature classes required for an undergraduate degree. I didn’t start out my career fact-checking, proofreading, or getting coffee for big-time reporters or writers. Who am I to think that I should be a writer of any kind just because I can type and spell?

So, I get to continue to be a part of Anne’s work playing the roles of unnamed source, crack plant detective, dedicated researcher, and ruthless editor. Even though we live hundreds of miles apart, we’ve got something to share and strengthen our friendship.

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