JUST CALL ME CLOUSEAU. Like the inspector, I’ve been bumbling around, searching for clues of spring. Yesterday I got down on my hands and knees in the cold, black, barely defrosted soil and rooted around amidst piles of sodden leafy detritus and tangles of winter-bleached-blond grasses, looking for bits of green.
Ah ha! A chive! I found one, then two. This one no bigger than a pencil tip, another barely a speck of emerald dust in a leprechaun’s eye. I suspect that little Irish trickster has been mischievously dancing in my garden, spreading false hope. I did notice a tiny rainbow the other day, but no pot of gold. It is only February, after all.
But the signs are all pointing in the right direction. Literally. For some reason, on my long walk yesterday under a brilliant Carolina blue sky, the weathered trail signs kept grabbing my attention. In the dull grey icy afternoons of January, the signs shrivel and recede into the dusk. On a day like this, they pop, beckoning passersby to take heed of the journey, to make choices, to mark progress. Time is passing and we’re all going somewhere, rather too quickly it seems to me, though it is so tempting to want to project into the future.
Lately, it seems my restlessness has been at a fever pitch.
But today, another graciously warm and sunny day (two in a row – be still my heart – and on a weekend, too!), I stopped in the middle of tidying up my vegetable garden, suddenly struck.
I realized what’s been bugging me all winter: winter.
Okay, duh. But by winter I mean the absence of the growing season. The time when I cannot forget myself with an obsessive project like making pea trellises out of stakes and twine, cannot put on my farm boots and my jeans with the hole worn in the back pocket where the pruners go and head out to deadhead or weed or puzzle over the knotted snarl of irrigation hoses. I cannot cut flowers and drop them gently into buckets of water, carefully curating them by stem-length and color. I cannot crouch and straighten out repeatedly, stretching my hamstrings as I side-step from bush bean to bush bean, flipping over the shy plants with one hand to reveal the hidden gems to pluck with the other. Or stand on my tip-toes reaching for the Sungolds and Rattlesnake beans dangling from the tallest arch in the garden.
But now that the days are longer, the sun still above the horizon at 5 o’clock, I can feel the relief coming. A day like today when I could actually work outside for a bit is such a noticeable boost that I wonder, once again, why I forget how closely tied my well-being is to the garden. All that is coming excites me – seeds are arriving, we’re moving the seed-starting shelves upstairs, I’m planning how to start the dahlias, dreaming about a hoop house or a little greenhouse – but it makes me a bit panicky, too: I know that the hours I must log for work each week (work as in employment) mean that I’ll need to make Herculean efforts to maximize garden (and sunshine) time, too.
I can do it. I must do it. I first realized how important being outside is for me in a series of tests given to me by a kind and gentle life coach when I was in early sobriety. (Don’t laugh – you would think one wouldn’t get to be almost 45 years old without knowing what makes one tick. But I was, well, busy.)
During the first six months following the day (Christmas day, 2006) that I finally put down my last drink, I gained a life coach, a therapist, a 12-step sponsor, a literary agent, and a new friend – five women who alighted in my life like angels at the exact moment I needed them. Little by little they all helped me realize that I was withering under the fluorescent lights of the office (among other maladies!). I ached to be in nature. Only when I got up enough courage to quit my job as editor in chief of Fine Cooking magazine did I unwittingly open the door to coming here, to the Vineyard, to write my first cookbook (the plan) and to wind up moving here permanently (not planned) and learning to be a small farmer (a complete surprise).
I became a grower of things and for that gift I am enormously grateful. I will always have it, even though reality requires a steady paycheck. But I will turn 60 this summer and time seems so fleeting that I’ve begun to dream again about a bigger garden, maybe a small cut-flower business, when I retire. My husband says he’ll help build the big garden, but after that he’ll wave to me as he heads off to the golf course. Deal, I say.
P.S. I wrote this yesterday, contentedly reflecting on a day spent outdoors on a warm (ish) sunny February day. Today it is 32 degrees and grey, with snow in the forecast. Ouch.
P.P.S. Farmer (aka The Farm Dog) turns 11 tomorrow, Valentine’s Day. Happy heart day to all.
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