Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/12/10)

I knew Galen Guerrette was a serious gardener when I felt the crunch of egg shells underfoot as I walked through his garden. They’re the mark of a true gardener, not just some horticultural fashionista screening compost to get rid of its undigested leavings. Gardening isn’t for the tidily sterile but those who embrace rotting and decomposition. Trees are nourished, amongst other things, by the decomposition of their own fallen needles and leaves. Synthetic chemical fertilizers eventually turn the soil sterile by salinization.

In addition to egg shells, Galen sports a black derby, as did the Sundance Kid, only smack dab in the middle of Doney Park. He claims his daughter finds them for him. No fashionably tattered, sweat-stained Stetson for him. I suspect that, quietly, he doesn’t give a damn what others think. Galen isn’t a noisy man.

Of French-Canadian ancestry, actually the Acadians of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, he was born in northern Maine’s potato country, raised in New Jersey, and served in the light motorized cavalry as mortar gunner in Vietnam for 1½ years. After his discharge, on the recommendation of a buddy in Vietnam from Yuma, he went west to Flagstaff to study geology with the help of the GI Bill at NAU.

After graduating but not finding employment as a geologist, he took up his father’s profession, contracting. It’s a conundrum whether he’s at heart a potato farmer, supporting himself and his family on the side as a contractor or a contractor, growing potatoes to remember his roots amongst northern Maine’s tubers. I suspect the former because his eyes twinkle when he points with pride to his potato beds. Self-identification isn’t so much a matter of time spent, but of devotion given.

A contractor’s dream, his garden is laid out in rectangles. Often called plots, he calls them cubicles. Scrap glass windows protect his cubicles on three sides. The east side is open. The prevailing wind is from the southwest. Wind is a factor in Doney Park.

Running alongside the cubicles is a water line to which he attaches both dripper and soaker lines depending upon the crop, drippers for squash and potatoes and soakers for asparagus, carrots, beans, beets, and greens. The soaker and dripper lines can be changed to rotate crops.

His soil is alkaline, mostly washed down from the mountains and cinder cones. He mixes vast amounts of compost and some sulphur to his soil which is composed of the ubiquitous volcanic cinders and red clay. Although he has a variety of vegetables, the apples of his eye are his pommes de terre. In the early spring, he digs several large holes, lays down some compost and dirt, sets out his potato seeds in a circle, and the covers them with more compost and dirt. As the potatoes sprout, he adds more compost and dirt, eventually ending up with a small mound while the potatoes develop below in the soft, fertile soil, creating a small backyard Acadia of his ancestry. First called Acadia by the explorer Verrazzanno, the land now called Nova Scotia reminded him the ancient Greek “idyllic land of fertile soil.”

As with many combat veterans, he doesn’t favor blood sports. He owns guns but doesn’t hunt. He’s even regrets killing the voles threatening his garden.

His wife, Andrea, his comrade in gardening arms, devotes her energies to a delightful flower garden in the front yard. For many years, she owned a private school, kindergarten through the 6th grade, called Carden of the Peaks. Both are Master Gardeners.

In addition to 35 years with his contracting business, GRC Construction and 15 years with her private school, Galen and Andrea have raised five children and have gathered 14 grandchildren. Swings Galen built for his children are now used by his grandchildren. Pictures of the whole gang are plastered all over a kitchen wall. But there’s more to Galen and Andrea. A bookcase jammed with books runs across one wall. In the dining room’s china cabinet, settings of English bone china and crystal stem ware betray a touch of elegance a few rods from horse barns and sweat stained Stetsons.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

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