begin. again. and again.

Last night was such a beautiful May evening. After allowing way too much stress into my system during the day –  my throat was closed, my belly tight – I intuited that the best remedy was to be out in the air and the light, digging in the soil. I have three little garden beds, one of which is already sprouting arugula, spinach and lettuce. But the other two are woefully overgrown. Each needs to be shoveled and handweeded, mixed with compost, weeded a bit more, and hoed — at  least by my amateur way of doing things. (Please tell me if there’s an easier way!) It takes about two hours per bed and is, at its best, highly meditative.

I’d been working for about 45 minutes when I had to go inside for a moment. Finding C. on the computer I told him how nice it would be to have him outside, how good it would feel. He’s been low-energy lately and I thought this would help — my rendition of carrying him to a Swiss mountainside retreat to breathe in the pure air. He complied. As he surveyed our brambly, wooly yard, he looked none too happy about it. And when he finally set upon a tiered garden area that is overgrown now but will Cambodia-like by August, he mumbled and cursed and frowned.

Suddenly, my own plot that I was working looked different. It was clumpy, full of rocks and tough parts that didn’t want to soften under my tools. It was the same patch that had failed to produce resplendent tomatoes the summer before and had brought a cucumber blight the year before that. It was a disappointment. And I, as its main caretaker, was clearly lacking in skill and tender green acumen. What an hour before had looked hopeful, now appeared hopeless.

“What’s the choice, though?” I thought. “To ignore it and let it go to weed?” The rest of the yard may inevitably, as it does each year, turn wild, but if I can go out and pluck a cherry tomato, a piece of basil, a few beans from these beds, that will give me pleasure. That will give me a sense of the life’s cycle. And it will remind me that everything begins again, even the weeds, even the inevitable withering of the vines next September, and the snow covering that may arrive in December.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed. The dust under the sofa. The laundry that never ends. The kids who just keep going and going. It can be really hard to breathe some days, to feel that I am ok here on my little piece of earth. So as the day turned to dusk, I got down on my knees and pulled at the long threads of creeping charlie, putting them in my weed  bucket. I broke the earth in my hands and then stood back up to push  my spade down deep into the blackness.


6 thoughts on “begin. again. and again.”

  1. Next time, Jennifer, send him back inside until he can stop sulking and ruining your happiness. Better yet, if he can’t be a bit more positive about life in the long run, suggest he work it out in a place of his own. You’re busy, you’ve got a job you need to keep, you’ve got two growing children, you’ve got yourself and gardens. What you don’t need is a piece of wet carpet.

    The world’s full of weeds, there’s always weeds. Something’s wrong if your garden hasn’t got them, it means you’re obsessive and relentless, which is only good for MidAmerican. Have fun digging in the dirt. It’s amazing how fast the gardens start looking like Real Gardens.

  2. hi Jen

    yeh, its funny how what seems possible and wonderful – and just the green bit of earth, the smell of lovely composty/ rich/ moistness and the handle, and the heft of the hose in our hands, anyway…
    can turn dark and mired in discomfort via someone elses thinking… we do and we do and we do, we go on doing dont we?

    might be more about getting yourself out of the buggers head, letting him have his grumpy mood, and you sit with it, or walk gently away to your – what is this creeping charlie? – never heard of it?

    xxx keep digging it up girl

    you’ll get to china sometime!


    1. Creeping charlie is something you just have to live with – or go crazy. It’s a very invasive “ground cover” that sends out shoots and grows close to the surface. Weak roots but covers lots of surface and spreads easily. At one point in my life, I battled it, now I mainly accept it. Sounds familiar, eh?

    2. Being in a relationship with someone else – be it a partner or a child or anyone with whom you choose to share your space – definitely sometimes necessitates lett them have their grumpy mood. What I too often forget is the “walk gently away” part …. thanks for the reminder!

  3. I”ve checked out that creeping charlie – looks a bit like what I’ve been battling with a couple of years now, and calling ‘wild horehound’, here. It came in with some manure I think… not so much a vine, as what seems a single plant, with many relations nearby to it -same kind of leaf, color and shape etc. Or a wild sage, perhaps, having looked up some local weeds.

    Good luck with them, anyway. its being out there and just getting into it that counts I reckon. Very zen, those weeds – they call us out, to the earth around us, get our hands into the soil, or rocky earth, or clay… again and again. thats ok!

  4. Jen, I’m not a fan of “walk gently away” if the problem’s been going on for a while. It leaves the other person still there behaving like a pill, and sets up an atmosphere in which it’s somehow okay for people to take their misery out on each other, as if we’re overgrown children. *Telling* the other person is useful. As in, “Dear, you’ve been a pill/couch-fungus for weeks and are making the atmosphere around here miserable, and frankly things are hard enough without that. Why don’t you go for therapy/do something about it/find another space to work things out in.”

    I no longer carry other people’s bad moods, depression, existential despair, etc., unless that person’s my child. And even then there are limits, because I live here too. If she’s having trouble, I’ll help her, but we talk and she learns that she bears some responsibility for trying to help herself feel better when she’s down, and coming for positive help when she can’t do it on her own. The awesome thing is that she gets it, and she really works at sorting herself out — and she lets me help if she can’t.

    I learned these things from a college boyfriend’s mother, who used to suddenly become aware that she was living in a hellhole because her husband was depressed and miserable and had been for months. At which point she would tell him to go away to Europe and get better. (They had money for this, but there are less expensive analogues.) And he would, and when he came back they’d be happy again. In the meantime her world improved immediately.

    Applying her lesson has cost me two relationships, but in both cases I got the better end of the bargain. Also a nice garden. Better a happy solitude than someone else’s misery.

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