Above: our weed-infested garden last Monday; below, 24 hours later
Walking past our vegetable garden this summer became painful. We tried to ignore it– the overgrown weeds, the rotting kale that had drowned months ago in the unseasonably wet entire month of June. Past the weeds that grew waist-high, past all the failure. Brush it aside, pretend it isn’t there. Pretend you don’t care. There are more important things.
But I did care, apparently. Year after year, we have cared. The process of composting, the waiting and turning and tending, only to add a wheelbarrow full of nutrients to this one small plot of land. The process of overwintering, of protecting hard-earned fertile soil from the elements with leaves or cover crops or both. Then in spring, the hard work of removal and preparing the earth for another crop of vegetables. Then planting, watering, weeding, all summer long. If it were all figured out in a salary, how much time spent on hands and knees, squatting in the hot sun, or how much anguish we feel when cabbage moth caterpillars decimate an entire crop of kale or broccoli, when it all comes down to it, from an outsider’s point of view, we would look like maniacs. Crazy for trying, crazy for putting in the time and effort, the sweat and blisters and scraped up knuckles, cut hands and mosquito-bit legs and arms. For what? A few vegetables that we could easily buy down the road at the grocery store?
Who knows why it is so satisfying. It just is. It gives me such a basic satisfaction to harvest and see this food grow, to see our boys enjoy a sun-warmed, sweet strawberry straight off the vine. It gives me space in my mind to work out everything — without it, the sun, the soil, the sound of insects and birds and nothing else, I seem to close down and feel more anxious. Crazy, maybe. But it just works.
And this is how I found myself, early Monday morning, with a fire in my soul and a determination to make things right again. As soon as I started sweating out there, weeds tickling my legs, sun beating down on my neck, it dawned on me: gardening as friendship, and its relation to this summer. I’ll skip waxing poetic about gardening as a metaphor for life. Here, it has everything to do with adult friendships. Tend to them, nurture them, do a little here and there. Sometimes it’s all you will need and the plants will do their part and grow. You weed, you water, they grow, they flourish. Other times, things will happen that are far beyond your control. You will loose half a garden through no fault of your own, and you will want to give up on all the rest, to go inside and walk away, take a break and forget it all exists. But the more you ignore it, the more the trouble grows. The weeds choke out some of the healthy plants just because you’re staying away, and before you know it you can’t even see the hardy, strong little plants in there that are working to survive, hell bent on showing you they can make it — that they are there for you, under all the crap, if you just look hard enough. You can’t see them until you clear away all the bad stuff. And put some damn effort into it again.
I’ve struggled my whole life with female friendships. Ever since I was a girl, I found boys easier to understand, easier to be around, easier to talk to; less drama, I thought. Fewer expectations. If I disappeared for awhile, they didn’t shun me or even ask questions. If I needed space, they didn’t take it personally. They didn’t gossip or say untrue things behind my back, or give me the silent treatment for reasons I couldn’t understand. My guy friends seemed to understand, or at least not be offended by, my strong need for space and independence, my need to disappear every now and then. But those same needs, when applied to my female friends, were disastrous, often ending in hurt feelings and a lot of times, ended friendships. I didn’t get it for the longest time, but I think I get it now — I have come across as indifferent, and maybe at times I was. I had no tolerance for pettiness or drama, and I admit certain situations were such a turn-off to me that it was easy to drop a few friendships because of it, and maybe that was a mistake to move on so easily. But through every stage of my life, I have had a handful of close, truly amazing female friendships. They bring to me something that my friendships with guys don’t: a sisterhood and depth and understanding that is unparalleled. They may not be many, but they are mighty, my female friends. And I think that is why I have so much trouble saying good-bye or being without them — there is an unsaid understanding once you find those people, that they will accept you no matter what, flaws and strange quirks and mood swings and need for space and all. I need these women in my life, I need these friendships to keep me strong and honest. Right now, I need more of these women in my life!
And sometimes, I need to take a chance. Plant something I’ve never planted before, and tend to it like the devil. Give it a chance, and then plant some more.