Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/30/10)

NormaLee Roudebush, a third generation Arizona wrangler, following her father, spent her early years breeding, breaking, and training horses, including thoroughbreds, in the Valley of the Sun. She got her start gentling an Appaloosa, but only after being thrown three times. “True grit,” or as the Prayer Book reads, she “perseveres therein to the end.” As a single mother she raised three children and collected two master’s degrees along the way in sociology and education. She came to the High Country when the ranches, fields, and groves of her childhood were turned to asphalt and concrete.

In other words, she’s a tough as nails, wearing the sobriquet, “desert rat” with pride. She’s also kind, tender, warm-hearted, and thoughtful. Walking the halls of Kinsey School, children wave at her, greet her by name, and run over to hug her. They’re all her helpers.

NormaLee’s not only the head honcho of the garden at Kinsey School, she’s also the only honcho. Having finished the Master Gardener Class, she decided to fulfill her volunteer hours creating a garden at the school where she is a substitute teacher. Starting out with hard scrabble, much of it detritus or debris, between two long rows of classrooms, she’s developing a flower and vegetable garden for the school children. The land lies on a slope and is subject to flooding during the monsoons which means mini-gully washers. However, she is indefatigable, this wrangler of yore, going back after every washout, restoring the beds and plants, resulting in a garden of small paths ambling up a slope amidst vegetables and flowers.

She began terracing, using old railroad ties she’d scrounged here and there. As with a lot of gardeners, she’s a scavenger, never throwing anything away and always on the lookout for stuff someone else has thrown away. She started creating soil out of the ground, best described as loose material, hauling out the big rocks to make a teaching circle for the children and then turning compost and organic matter into the remaining loose material, creating soil.

She’s also a finagler, having taken a grant for one project and extending it into three projects by means too complex for ordinary comprehension.

Wall-Mart, Warner’s, the School District, and the City all pitched in, giving her equipment, a composter, tools, and a shed. Also, she has the warm support of the teachers and staff at Kinsey, particularly the principal, Carolyn Hardy. However, she needs more help in funds, material, and sweat equity. Call (928) 773-4060 and leave a message.

In addition to being a wrangler, gardener, teacher, and mother, she’s also a volunteer landscaper at Kinsey School which is how she found herself digging in the schools’ dirt. She saw the need for a teaching garden. Her motivation is providing a garden in which the children, accustomed to concrete, asphalt, junk food, and packaged goods, can dig in the soil, letting it run through the fingers, rubbing a basil leaf in their fingers and smelling the aroma, eating a tomato off the vine, and picking a squash. In an age of electronics, cell phones, computers, iPods, and texting, grounding children to the ground may be one of the most crucial educational tasks.

Perhaps, even more important than connecting with the ground is teaching the children by example the process of creation, how to make something. Most children know how to use things, even use them up, but not much in how to create things, to have a vision and accomplish it. Everyday the children at Kinsey School can look out of their class room windows and see NormaLee fulfilling her vision of the creation, even helping her. It may not be ex nihilo, as did the Lord God in the creation, but certainly wrangling soil out of left-over dirt, making the earth bloom, creating life out of that which was rejected.

She does this, for those who are hale and hearty, with a bad back, wresting from the mute, dumb earth a garden that speaks to the children. The garden's metaphorical message is the meaning of beauty, food, creation, transformation, work, and in persevering “therein to the end.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

No comments: