February 28, 2017 § Leave a comment
February was a trickster. I thought I had it all figured out. The grapevines and raspberries were pruned to perfection, the beds, all cozy in their horse manure blankets, got a fresh layer of leaf mulch (well, two of them, the others seemed just fine!). There were days that inched above 50 and the girls insisted it was officially springtime and, though my feet were still firmly planted in thick wool mountaineering socks, theirs were bare. To be fair, back in our homeland, this is when the bluebonnets would be making their appearance, so our internal clocks still chimed with all the alerts of impending flip flop weather.
We graduated our “baby” chickens (which we’d raised in a horse trough in the garage over the winter, yeah…don’t do that) in with the big birds and felt like champion farmers when they didn’t kill each other.
And we welcomed our fourth wave of house guests in four months, while trying our damndest to maintain homeschooling and the appearance that we knew what the hell we were doing out here. It mostly worked.
February 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
Zeal without knowledge is not good — how much more will hasty feet miss the way! Proverbs 19:2
I spent my childhood spring breaks and summers on my grandmother’s farm in Arkansas, snapping beans and canning tomatoes, locking chickens under the house to spare them from the axe. Her place was a lot like the one I have now — a house in the middle of a few acres, a big garden, red barn, ponds, even a creek with a little bridge, all surrounded by evergreen. Only difference was the color of the dirt.
The year we got married, Bryan bought me dirt of my own, two 1×3 foot plastic flower boxes for the fire escape on our apartment on S.Mathilda in Pittsburgh. Drawing upon my lifetime of gardening experience, I grew three very small inedible carrots.
Baffled by my failure, I did what the Browns always do next: built a library. I cleared out all the Half-Price Books in Western PA and by the time I’d read every book on gardening in the northeast, we moved back to Texas.
Drunk on my theoretical expertise, my Texas garden was slightly more ambitious, four 4×4 and two 4×8 foot raised beds in the front yard of our house in Smithville. By this time I was home with my first baby, and I parked her in a playpen on the shady front porch while I slaved over my perfectly mixed soil, picked off every last stinkbug, patched up squash stems after carving out vine borers, and trapped slugs with beer. She almost choked to death more than once on Japanese beetles who are mysteriously drawn to babies in cages. I, along with the majority of my brassicas, battled heat stroke as I figured out that “full sun” means something very different in Central Texas than in any of my pretty gardening books.
That year we ate arugula at every single meal, gave away 10,000 tomatoes, and never grew one single squash of any variety.
I dug my next garden on my hands and knees while pregnant with my second daughter. I ripped out a 20X4x15 foot section of Bermuda grass in the front yard of our house in Austin and built another raised bed (this one with some shade). Over the course of the next 7 years, that garden transformed over and over again, and eventually grew another two feet in either direction, and added two more 4×8 foot beds. Some years it was a spectacular scene — 15 foot tomatoes, pumpkins running halfway down the block, green beans for nine months straight, zinnias that made me weep for joy. Other years it was volunteer basil and Bermuda grass…again.
In truth, it wasn’t until maybe 4 years ago that I had any idea what I was actually doing. The bulk of my gardening career has been assuming I could assimilate hundreds of years of gardening knowledge by skimming books and websites and just going for it. The year round growing season in central Texas, my husband’s endless patience and bottomless pockets, and my tireless zeal have made me very lucky.
So when I showed up here, I thought the garden would be the least of my worries. Ten years of urban, raised bed, central Texas gardening under my belt! Of course I know how to transfer that to a rural garden in a maritime northwest climate. How hard could it be to go from year round square foot gardening to a seasonal garden planted in deep rows of soil, cultivated over 25 years, that don’t dry out till Mother’s Day? (MOTHER’S DAY!)
I spent the first month in complete denial. “Maybe the Mother’s Day thing was just because they didn’t want to garden before May? Or maybe they were too stubborn to embrace different techniques that would extend the season? Too chained to old ways. Maybe the master gardener and landscape architect we bought the property from just haven’t read the same books I’ve read.”
I put the garden to bed in the late fall, tucked in the overwintering carrots and kale, pulled the onions to dry in the barn, and felt more confident than ever that I knew exactly what I was doing.
But then the sun disappeared. And the snow fell. And when it washed away in the rain my boots sunk down six inches between the rows when I went to pull the frostbitten broccoli to feed to the chickens. I stared out over the over the rows of corn I had just learned to chop with a machete I had just learned to hold, and realized I had no idea what a person plants after corn when there’s only one season per year for crop rotation, or where one would plant that corn this year so that it doesn’t block the rest of the garden when the angle of the sun is such a factor here. Angle of the sun? Oh, Lord, where are the science books? Where are WE?
I looked down at my boots, sunk into most beautiful mud I’d ever seen, at the kale and carrots, beet tops still going strong in November. I looked up at the sky, past the trees that towered higher than the buildings in the city I’d come from.
And I began to feel very small.
February 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
I came across this blessed gift of an article this morning and wanted to share it with anyone (everyone) wrestling with sadness. It reminded me immediately of that list of Life Rules I scribbled down a while ago and made me curious if I have been faithful in following them.
Please do read the article (here’s the link again), as it’s far more eloquent, comprehensive, and smart than my list, because…well…it’s written by a saint. But here’s what resonated with me the most, especially in light of everything this blog — and my whole life — has ever been about:
Our bodies, brains and hands and eyes and stomachs and quads and intervertebral discs, are essential to the purpose of our lives. They are not in the way of our spirits, some temporary torture chamber from which we must be liberated or some hideous distraction that we are tasked to ignore.
When I was coaching, I would always ask, “If your body were not an obstacle, what would you do with it?” The answers that would come on the first day were typically harsh. There was this view that being fat, sick, depressed, exhausted or broken in any way disqualified the body from serving any purpose. The body needed to be punished, pushed out of the way, so that the “real person” could finally break out and grab hold of their true destiny. But every single time, without fail, as I saw people care for their bodies (often through the the sneaky trick of calling it a “challenge”, discipline words) — feed them good food, give them good rest, soak them in sunshine, expose them to beauty — their answers changed.
The question was never, “If your body (pain, weakness, depression) didn’t exist, what would you do with your ‘real life’?” It was always, “If your body were not an obstacle, but an integral part of the story, an asset, what would you do?”
I still set my body up as an enemy all the time. I shout at my body, curse my brain, slap myself with rules and challenges and strict discipline. Sometimes, a little discipline is what I need, but more often than not, I just need a shower or a poem or a very long time in the garden. Maybe a pot roast?
And all of it is prayer. All of it is setting my face like flint before the Lord.
February 1, 2017 § 1 Comment
I don’t pay attention. I am hard headed, heavy headed, neck bent, eyes on the ground right in front of me. The mess being made, the battle being fought.
I keep a record of of my wrongs, this swirling, non-chronological mass of mistakes, things done and left undone, and call it my True Story. I go over it every day, all the times I should have died, all the wounds that I’ve been given, all the wounds I gave: the monster of depression and mania that never stays dead, the decades of medication gnawing at my brain and liver and thyroid, the father who crushed my heart, the weapon of my words against my mother, my silence, my absence, my refusal to love others, the shame of obesity, the absolute impossibility of motherhood, the deadliness of my temper, my razor sharp tongue, the pounding disappointment of pain in my body, the unending tangle of marriage, and the persistent drip of my daily failure.
But what of the victory all around me? What of the vast landscape of victory behind me, the impassable mountains climbed, hideous dragons slain, opposing armies crushed and swept out to sea? What of the children, sitting at the breakfast table, sewing doll clothes as the sun comes up?