About Bill Hatke

Remembering Bill Hatke by Dan Bentley

Part 1


Bill Hatke, aged 61, died on September 7, 2007, night of the full moon after several months of intense pain and suffering.

In the spring of that year, he broke and turned a 90 x 83 foot plot by hand with a mattock, an awesome feat of brawn and determination and concentration.  He told me gardening was a meditation for him.  Bill was truly a master gardener in every sense of the word, but not signified by a document that graduated him from a course of book learning.  His knowledge came from years of trial and error.  He had a phenomenal memory about what he planted, when and where and what the weather was like at that time, and what the yields had been in previous years….what worked and what didn’t, which he modified in an attempt to make it work.  He was great at making ditches to drain the ground when it was too wet, a secret many gardeners of the flat mind have forgotten.  He worked diligently on soil improvement.   He was an avid weeder.  He was featured in a chapter in the book “Parsnips in the Snow, Talks with Midwestern Gardeners ”, edited by Jane Ann Straw (Bur Oak Books—University of Iowa Press).

He said to several people “gardening never fails me.”  This did not mean he never had garden failures.  What he meant was that in the larger sense, gardening was always there for him in a way nothing else could be….it was waiting there for him every day.  It constituted almost another entity.  The act of working on the land was therapy and it gave back something in a way people could not.  Give and take in the garden was immediate and Bill loved balance in that regard. He sought balance in all things.  His connection to nature was strong and he loved being in the elements, windblown, suntanned, rain wet, crusted in dust and mud.   Gardening for Bill was a kind of immersion.  Gardening was the perfect complement for someone as intelligent and cerebral as Bill was.  It grounded him and allowed him to carry on an almost constant mediation and/or conversation with himself at the same time.  Who can blame him for wanting to do so?  He had the most interesting mind (probably in the region) and talking to himself was frequently the best gig in town.

In external conversation you never knew exactly what he was going to say.  He was always full of surprises and you could never really guess what his response would be.  The couple of times I did second guess him it pissed him off so I guess you could say it was even a game with him….one he wanted to win.  So I never again suggested to him what I thought his next move would be.

Part 2

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