Down to Earth

Judith's cooking lesson

| June/July 2008

New neighbors recently bought the land and house next to ours, where the late Johnny and June Carter Cash once lived. The Cashes famously enjoyed the privacy of the wooded peninsula, situated atop bluffs overlooking the lake.

Knowing I had worked for many years as a landscape architect, my new neighbors asked if I’d landscape their home. I happily accepted. I knew the property well, as it held an unusual collection of native plants and I had often hiked there over the decades. No design could possibly improve upon the natural beauty of this place, so I decided to recreate that natural setting.

With the help of cranes, backhoes and a crew of four, I brought in tons of boulders, mixed tons of topsoil with peat moss to make a planting mix, and relocated native plants and herbs among the rocks. On the lake side of the house I created an herb garden. The homeowners both enjoy cooking, so having an herb and vegetable garden outside the kitchen was important.

One member of my crew, Guillerimo, was from Guatemala. Guillerimo didn’t have a car, so I drove him home each evening. He always offered to pay me for taking him home, and I always refused—until I came to understand that Guillerimo’s pride would be hurt if I did not accept some sort of payment.

I considered the matter carefully, then came up with a plan. Communicating through his grandsons, who translated my English into Spanish for Guillerimo, I said, "Tell your grandpa I would like your grandmother to teach me how to cook a Guatemalan dish."

Guillerimo looked very pleased and said he would ask his wife Judith. The next day, Judith rode along to work with Guillerimo and her son translated for her: "I would be honored to teach you to cook a Guatemalan dish, but wouldn’t it be better if I taught you to cook a meal?" So the deal was struck. We would gather and cook a meal together.

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