A Bit of Earth
May 24, 2017
I always found it touching when the main character in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden summoned up the courage to ask her distant and domineering uncle for permission to have a garden. I tend to think of that line when I’m working in my yard. Yard work shouldn’t be mentally exhausting, but for folks with C-PTSD, everything is exhausting.
My favorite gardening memories were from the summer of 1999 when I was living in Lynnwood, Washington. It’s 8 miles north of Seattle, but with traffic it can be a 45 minute drive. We were living in apartments at the time, so we didn’t have a place to grow vegetables. My friend Storm, her daughter Rainy and my two girls and I would carpool up to Marysville, I think it was, where we’d borrowed a bit of earth from a friend we’d met online. My brain is rattling around trying to remember that lady’s name… Barbara? Vicki? Barbara is my final guess. It’s not really the point of the story.
Storm was the main garden planner, we split the purchase of new starts and Storm started seeds too. We read books like “Carrots Love Tomatoes” and each week when we’d visit, we’d split the haul three ways, so that Barb’s family could benefit too. We’d sweat and work together, digging and planting and trimming, weeding and getting dirty together. It was one of the things I loved about living in Seattle-ish. None of my personal veggie gardens were ever as productive as that garden was and even though I’ve eaten flowering broccoli since then, it was never as sweet as what we grew there in Marysville. In addition to our gardening, we’d take the kids hiking sometimes and study the native plants we’d encounter on the trail. I was surprised when I moved back to this area how much I’d remembered about the names and traditional native-American medicinal uses for so many of the “weeds.” So don’t be surprised if you get stung by a bee and find me spitting chewed-up yarrow on your bee sting, because that shit works, okay. Still, not the point of this writing.
I’ve always enjoyed yard work, there’s something singularly satisfying about putting a plant in the ground and nurturing it as it grows. When my ex husband and I owned a house, I grew fabulous petunias that hung 2-3 feet down from their elevated planters, over the carport. My mother always had beautiful house plants when I was a kid, I think I love my plants more than I love my pets sometimes. Except Charlie <3 but he’s gone 🙁
One of the things that first attracted me to this house we’re living in now is the “bit of earth” it sits on. The previous owners were an old couple who built it for their family in the 50’s or something. There’s something blooming all year long. Every time I’m out there pulling weeds or trimming things, one of the thoughts that loop through my mind is the idea that for 50+ years, a woman I”ll never meet hovered over the same flower beds pulling the same weeds and trimming the same shrubs, cutting back the same dead flower heads. I get a weird sense of nostalgia that I can’t quite put my finger on.
The first year that we lived here I felt a sense of ownership, because I’d chosen it with the real estate agent, fallen in love with it, pictured our family aging in the house and imagined a lifetime of family dinners, backyard barbecues, prom pictures, and maybe even grand babies toddling around the place. Even as late as June of 2014, I believed that I’d be in the house forever. Our existence in this space is all due to the generosity of a friend who had the means to provide us with a stable home in spite of the fact that I hadn’t sorted out my post-divorce financial life yet. After years and years of stress on the home-front, the stability we’ve had for the past few years has been intensely therapeutic and I’ll never stop being grateful for the help, I honestly don’t know where we’d be without it. But the dust is settling and I’m trying to wrap my mind around whatever decisions we’ll have to make at the beginning of next year, when my lease runs out.
This little bit of earth might not be mine, but it’s become my medicine.
When my ex husband decided to plant a cannabis farm, we were living in farmland, surrounded by apple orchards. I wanted a vegetable garden but we never seemed to have the money for starts. I was our sole financial provider, working from home in addition to homeschooling a few of our kids as well as driving a couple of them 25 miles round trip each way to public school. It’s not like I had time to be out there in the garden. The kids and working kept me plenty busy but I was severely miffed when the cannabis farm turned into a vegetable garden too. Growing our own food went from being “something Lisa wants that’s not a priority” to “Something we’re doing” that I had no say in. Surprise. I desperately wanted to be out in the sunshine, enjoying the earth, listening to the birds and nurturing our food from sprout to table, but the presence of the rest of the gardening crew was disturbing. Between their cigarettes, loud music, constant intoxication and generally mindless conversations, I couldn’t just be there enjoying the earth and growing food. Gardening isn’t rocket science, but suddenly everything I did was “wrong.” What was once a solitary and cooperative activity between the planet and my body became yet another source of stress and inadequacy. I was told that I’m no good at pulling weeds, tying tomatoes, or even moving a sprinkler head. There was literally nothing I could do that was “right.” I loved my chickens, they didn’t insult my skills at all.
I’ve heard of people having sexual baggage, emotional baggage, food baggage, financial baggage but I get to be the gal with gardening baggage. Of all things. And yes, all the other things too. I should open a luggage store. It would be the worst luggage store ever. We’ve got sock baggage, linen baggage, laundry baggage and even pickle baggage. It’s true.
Anyway, part of my recent “fix my mind” commitment is to spending at least an hour each day working on my yard. I’ve learned that my mind thrives when I’ve got a bit of earth to work. It’s bittersweet, seeing the last of the lilacs withering today, I was reminded that I won’t get to see them next year. Trimming dead flower heads off of the tea rose bush I planted two years ago was also bittersweet; it’s not like you can move a rose bush, especially when you don’t even know where you’re moving yet.
My mind is still so intolerably fragile; I found myself feeling vulnerable, exposed in the very front of the yard today snipping away some dried-out fronds at the base of the ferns. I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but it looked necessary, so I did it. I normally google these things, because I don’t want to do the wrong thing and end up making the yard ugly, but this time I just followed my instincts. I imagined my neighbors looking out of their window saying “What is she doing?” and “Is she really cutting away dead fern fronds? And what sort of tool is she using? She’s using the wrong thing.” It’s the learned unworthiness and the fear of condemnation that always get to me.
Afterward, standing back and looking at the ferns, they look much better. I still don’t know if I did it right but when I pulled into my driveway tonight, my heart smiled a little. The instinctive thing I did made it prettier. Let’s hope my instinctive massacre of the Belladonna and the Wisteria is just as effective. And while we’re at it, let’s hope that the curse words I muttered at the Morning Glories were also effective. These plants are out of control.
Even if I don’t get to keep this bit of earth, I’m glad that we were able to connect this way. If my mind keeps recovering like this maybe I’ll plant a real veggie garden wherever we move. And compost the rest of that baggage.