Friday, October 9, 2009


When I was a boy growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression we subsisted partially on my father’s ability to hunt for game, on the plentiful bass and catfish from the Rockfish River and also on wild fruits and berries which grew in abundance in the area, but most especially on the vegetable garden which we tended and which rewarded us generously from the early spring peas to the huge pumpkins that we harvested and either carved into Jack O Lanterns or made into pies in the fall.

I was a sensitive boy, a failure as a hunter.It was painful to me to deal the coup de grace to a quail that had only partially been killed by the spreading birdshot of a twenty-two rifle. I was repelled when a deer had only been wounded and the harsh struggle that had to take place in order to subdue it. And while I continued to fish even into adulthood there came a time when I questioned if the gigantic king salmon experienced pain while I engaged in the hour of “sport” it took to drag it out of British Columbia’s legendary Rivers Inlet.

The one source of food that I took part in planting, cultivating, and harvesting and which gave me the greatest pleasure was gardening. My father’s earliest garden was a sizeable plot on the bank of the Rockfish River. We planted our crops following directions from “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” (Plants that were to be harvested above ground to be planted when the moon was full. Plants that came to fruition underground were to be planted on the dark of the moon!) And it worked!

It was my duty to take water from the Rockfish River and carry it to whatever hill or row was carrying seed. I can still remember the awe and astonishment I experienced when the first tiny leaf of tomato or a string bean or cucumber first showed its face.

I suspect that if my life had followed the pattern like that of the other boys in my village I might well have become a farmer, found a nice local girl and settled down to a life similar to that my parents knew. But due to a set of near miraculous circumstances it was not to be my destiny. Laura Horsley, the wife of our local doctor had friends on the board of directors and nominated me to receive a scholarship at the University of Richmond. The scholarship was awarded and I left the Rockfish River behind. In my sophomore year I was drafted into the Army of the United States and left Richmond, Virginia behind. As a soldier I was stationed in Paris and for a while I fell so in love with that city that I nearly left my own country behind.

I was a far different person when I returned to Schuyler Virginia after the war. While I still hated to wring a chicken’s neck or killing the deer. I could do it. And I discovered that while the Army experience had toughened me, I still felt the awe and wonder of a seed’s awakening and growth. I had visited New York City on our high school Senior Trip. We had gone there to visit the 1939 World Fair. The fair must have astonished most visitors, but coming from my background, it was a glimpse into a world I could not even have imagined. We stayed on Columbus Circle at a hotel that I believe is still there. I loved the city from the moment I first stepped out of the hotel door and breathed in something ineffable that told me that this was my spiritual home. And I promised myself on that trip that someday I would come back and live there. Soon after World War Two I kept that promise and from the moment I arrived I became a New Yorker.

The apartment I rented was described in the classified ads as “for the discerning few.” Actually it was rather special for the price. The owner was an architect and he had stripped the walls down to the original brick and painted them white. Although it was really one large room the space had been utilized adroitly. The bed conveniently disappeared under a raised stairway platform, which led down to the floor of the room. The kitchen was hidden behind a folding door and the bath was its own separate room. The most interesting feature of the apartment to me was not the interior but the exterior. All along the length of the front window was one long deep planter box in which the owner had cultivated a showy bed of geraniums.

I am sure that the owner, a fastidious man, would have had an apoplectic fit if he had ever discovered that hidden in the geraniums I had reverted to my childhood passion to grow things and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, and a bed of wax beans.

My profession led me to California and in its endless sunshine, and climate so hospitable to growing things, my passion came alive again. Our house is on a hillside and what level ground there is became a rose garden which is Jane’s pride and which supplies the house with fresh roses just about all year round.

This year I had an inspiration. I realized there was a level surface! It existed on a long deck surrounding the swimming pool. Why not raise a container garden! Not exactly compatible elements with a pristine turquoise swimming pool from a decorative point of view, but what the hell! As the saying goes, “You can take the boy out of the country, etc.”

I spent hours at the nursery supply stores studying seed packets, comparing brand name pieces of equipment and the complexion of various potting mixtures. A small fortune went into planter boxes, containers the size of tubs, soil, fertilizer, watering cans, trowels, seeds, a composting system, and a hose long enough to water the entire area.

I envisioned what the Los Angeles Times recently described as an “Urban Meadow,” but once assembled the deck began to look as if the Beverly Hillbillies had moved in. But what the hell! Jane’s roses filled the house with beauty. My garden would fill it with fresh healthy produce.

The spring weather was most beneficial with cool nights and bright sunny days. All the seeds went to work enthusiastically and I would rush down to the deck each morning at first light to rejoice at the miracles taking place.

I fantasized about the rich harvest that was sure to follow. I gazed with pity on shoppers in our market as they spent good money on produce from God knows where, sure to be laden with hormones and cancer causing preservatives. I pictured myself, wearing a straw hat and overalls, going from neighbor to neighbor with gifts of hefty beefsteak tomatoes, baskets of crisp wax beans, slender succulent cucumbers, and huge purple eggplant. My visits would inspire others to follow my example. They would foster good neighbor relationships during this deplorable time when trust and good will are disappearing from our society. My garden would sew the seeds for a better world!!

But then a long wet spell set in and I did not visit my “meadow” as often, but when I did I found my infant plants began mysteriously disappearing.

When I kept watch I discovered that the very blue jays, mocking birds, sparrows and linnets that we had fed and treasured were the culprits. I started afresh but covered the next generation of seedlings with netting. The butterbeans came to vibrant life. The cucumber vines were aggressive immediately and were climbing to ambitious heights and the egg plant blossomed when it was only a few weeks old. I bought tomato plants already close to producing fruit and within a week tomatoes the size of marbles appeared. My garden was a marvel.

And then one morning my produce began to disappear. The tomatoes were the first to go, and then the beans. The mystery was solved when I kept watch one dawn and witnessed the raids by ground squirrels, rats, raccoons, skunks, mice and even a family of ravens. I fought back with traps, but the critters outwitted me. I caught one ground squirrel in a Havaheart trap, but I was too tender hearted to drown it and so I drove to Griffith Park and released it. I did harvest a tomato, but like the great fish in Hemmingway’s book “The Old Man and the Sea,” the trophy has been half eaten and was a skeleton of what it had been.

I did manage to arrive early one morning with my camera to catch the one last item the beasts had overlooked.

I harvested the wax bean and rushed in the house to show it to Jane.

“What shall I do with it?” I asked.

With her usual sweetness and generosity, she said, “Earl, it’s your bean.”

I am happy to tell you that my literary harvest has been more productive. When I came from New York to Hollywood in 1961 Rod Serling gave me my first job – an assignment on “The Twilight Zone.” That job opened the door to a lifelong career in television and film and I will always be in Rod’s debt.

During those years I kept a file of ideas for "Twilight Zone" type stories and just this month three of them are seeing the light of day.

"Dark Discoveries” is an exciting new magazine specializing in fantasy and darker type fiction. The present issue has an interview with George Clayton Johnson, an entire script by Bill Nolan and an article by novelist and poet, Christopher Conlon about work that was intended for “The Twilight Zone” but which were never telecast.

I have too a short story in the issue about an aging writer and what happens when he exchanges his sports car for a more sensible model. It is available at newsstands or by contacting the magazine at

The same publisher has an anthology called “The Bleeding Edge” and my contribution is a story about a boa constrictor and two brothers who strive for the affections of an exotic dancer. Available by following this link:

I harvested one more story from my "Twilight Zone" file. It is a mysterious tale about the revenge a bonsai enthusiast visits on a man who injures one of his valuable trees. It is in a collection called “Twilight Zone, Nineteen Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary” Edited by Carol Serling. Available from all book stores as well as This “Harvest” is dedicated with gratitude, respect and admiration to the memory of Rod Serling, a fine man, a remarkable writer and a good friend.


  1. So good to hear from you on your blog again. Sounds like photography might be a good hobby to take up with your gardening! Oh, and I hear you can also convert swimming pools into fish ponds (a.k.a. "recirculating-aquaculture", which is agriculture... Add the plants into the equation and you'll have "aquaponics," which is recirculating-aquaculture and hydroponics.) If, in the end, the gardening doesn't pan out on the deck in CA, you know you can always come to VA for the season and do it!

  2. I was so happy when I saw the notification of a new blog entry, Mr. Hamner... I look forward to each and every entry, hungrily absorbing them in my desire to consume all things you produce (from your pen, not your garden (grin)).
    Many thanks as usual. Here is hoping that the next entry is soon!


  3. Thanks for another beautiful posting. I'm very glad I found your blog!

  4. So happy to hear from you....Thank you for sharing another wonderful story...I have been on a Waltons Marathon for the last week....It relaxes me....Wishing you all the best! Happy Halloween.....

  5. Thank you sir, your writing always puts a smile on my face, and also on the face of my mother. She was born in Schuyler, Virginia in 1934.

  6. Dear Earl, your words about fresh garden tomatoes and cucumbers remind me so of the gardens Terry planted for us, out on the back acre each year. After he learned to outwit the fouls and vermin, we feasted on fresh garden foods. The food was scrumptous and Terry felt triumphant. It was the best of times. He was always carrying a bag of "goodies" to appreciative co-workers and neighbors. I fussed. I worried that he devoted too much of himself and energy to the garden. But, I underestimated the therapy it provided for him. The garden was his space. It offered up a quiet time, free from the worries of the world as he communed with nature and found an unspeakable peace while letting go of the more complex things of life. To me it was a garden, albeit, delightful and delicious. But to him it was a world of his own creation. It gave him joy to provide for his family, healthy robust foods, just like the food he'd come to love from living on a farm. There in his garden he was master of his domain. And in that confidence, he found great joy. I finally came to realize, for him, there was more to it than just planting a few seeds. It was satisfaction of orchestrating something larger than himself. This city girl never learned to can the foods quite the way his Grandmother had successfully done. No matter, there was always plenty to eat and the rest was for sharing. It made him happy; almost as happy as watching The Waltons and remembering "the good old days". Too young to experience the great depression personally, he recalled many stories from his Grandparents and taught his children great values, such as; to always be thankful for what they had on their plates. I wish he was going with me to Virginia next month. He would have plenty to talk over with you. You would have liked him Earl. He was only 52, but he was an old soul. He might've been able to give you a few tips on how to tenderly rid your garden of varmits. :)

    The back acre is empty now. A sad reminder of where a tender man once toiled with great joy, to provide for those he loved. :)

    Thank you Earl for reminding me of those good times with Him.

  7. Thanks for this wonderful blog, Earl. I am so happy that we got to meet you in Los Angeles at Bradbury's birthday event. Jason and I look forward to seeing you again and spending a little more time when we can visit in a less hectic setting! BTW, Jason and I both grew up on small farms with our grandparents. We totally understand your frustration. :-)

  8. Thank you for posting your blog, I was anxiously awaiting it.

    I love reading your stories and blogs. Please post again soon.

    And enjoy your California sunshine, autumn has taken hold of the Northeast....

  9. these are the short story opportunities you were telling me about, earl. congratulations...i will seek out these magazines. be good.

  10. Dear Earl,
    I am so glad that you have posted this blog. If you also read theses comments made, then you will also know what a blessing your writings and shows have been to me growing up and my family now.
    I never grew up with such a strong, close family such as you did, nor in the country. My father work at a factory in the city, and we grew up in a large suburb. I was about Mary Ellen's age when your show Waltons came out, and it produced in me a life long desire to seek out strong family relationships and a simpler life based on real values. As children after watching the show, my brother and sister and I would call goodnight to each other as you all did in the show. I decided that I would live in the country when I grew up. I often wished that I had a grandfather and grandmother like Zebulon and Esther, but my grandparents were Polish immigrants and were far different in nature. I even named a hound pup I had Zeb, out of respect for that wish.
    Now my children, both now teenagers have experienced the Waltons and have grown to love and are inspired(I think!) by the lesson stories you have written for the show. You have inspired more than one generation. The same basic values have held through the years. I am grateful for the fact that you did grow up as you did and wrote about it and that it became what it was.
    I hope someday to meet you, but am glad to have written this, for I doubt that I would have had ample opportunity to express this verbally to you in person. I will continue to read your blog with interest.

  11. Oh your stories make me smile. I wish you would post a new story every week! I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting more Earl Hamner personal stories. Jane sounds wonderful.

  12. This is Tauna Faulkner again, as I read this one brought back memeories of my Mother during the depression them living off of the veg. their father grew, he tenderly cared for them and what was exstra they sold to neighbors, they also had the many things they had canned. My Grandmother did have a green thumb and could make any flower grow. My Mother did too and I love to garden too. I sometimes do not have good luck with veg. But every seedling of veg. or flowers i love to watch bloom and grow and get excitted each time or sad if they dont grow or die. my other grandmother gardened too. Living in the desert of las vegas and henderson has always been hard just like in arizona when the heat is so much,but I still get excitted every year to plant by seeds or ones that have been started from the store and trans plant into the ground or in a pot. My mother Loved flowers and plants and veg. Thanks again for more of your wonderful memories. Tauna Faulkner

  13. That was hilarious, Mr. Hamner. I hope Brian Williams straightens up his act, too!

  14. Earl,
    This is Lee from Knoxville, I tried to send you a thank-you for the signed photograph and the book you signed for me, but when I tried to send it to your email address, it kept bouncing back. When your new book comes out are you planning on doing a book signing in my area, if you will be please let us know.

    Thanks again,