gardening, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Wick. 

For the past few months I have been going out to my garden in the evening, digging a hole, and filling it with food scraps. I try to go out at dusk when I still have a bit of light but am less likely to be seen by my neighbors. I am pretty certain many of them already think I am a little strange(an introvert in an extroverted neighborhood), so seeing me dig holes in my yard to bury the ends of my carrots and used coffee grinds would not help my current status. A while ago I read about the benefits of burying compost in your garden to improve the soil. I wrote an entire curriculum on composting for grad school, so I am not new to the concept, but I’ll admit I never thought of just digging holes and burying it. My soil is in bad shape, so I figured, “why not?” 

My garden, or backyard, is half the reason I bought my house. I want to live in the city, but only if I can have a piece of earth to play with. I lucked out finding a house close to center city, but not too close, with a yard that is the same square footage as my downstairs. I want this garden to be happy and healthy and full of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. I want bees and birds and butterflies to make their homes there. I want my daughter to grow up with a green thumb and a love for the outdoors.

When I moved here, the yard was full of waist high prickly weeds and random tools and trash left over from the remodel of my house. The first time I saw it, it was pouring rain and it looked like the yard had been neglected for years. I instantly fell in love. I looked at my realtor and he immediately knew as well as I did that this was the one. I looked at that muddy weed and trash covered yard and all I could see were the birds and butterflies dancing through the lush and healthy garden. I could already smell the lavender and fennel.

My first few months with the garden, I filled 10 or more bags of trash. Broken glass, rusty tools, parts of railroads, statues, dirty diapers, and a variety of broken toys and christmas ornaments were on or sticking out of the top layer of soil. I pulled all of the weeds and pulled them again when they came back. I had days when my arms were covered in scratches from thorns and the stench of old trash filled my nose. I threw out some of my gardening clothes and wore through 4 pairs of gloves. My daughter was strictly forbidden to enter the garden I so desperately wanted for her. By month six or seven, most of the weeds stopped coming back and grass and clover started covering the yard, random morning glories popped up, and birds started coming to my feeder. Still, the yard was mostly bare and after heavy rains, more trash would come to the surface and I would fill more bags with pieces of glass, plastic, Styrofoam, and metal. Sometimes I would come in crying and feeling hopeless that I would ever have a good healthy garden.

The thing is, I grew up watching and reading The Secret Garden knowing that you should never give up on a piece of earth. In the story, Dickon shows Mary a bud in the neglected garden and says it is “wick.” That is, it still has life. It is worth reviving and it will blossom again. Much like The Secret Garden, I heard stories of my yard once being lush and covered in rose bushes by a previous owner who is now gone. I like to think that she also once dreamed of a little piece of heaven in the backyard and the life that is left here is a little piece of her.

 

Each hole I dig is 8-12 inches deep. In some areas of the garden, I dig up a bucket full of soil with little else but happy worms and bugs. However, in some parts of the garden, I have uncovered entire foil chip bags, whole water bottles, tennis balls, plastic bags, whistles, broken glass, and coins. I get a little sick to my stomach at first. This trash is so deep, the only explanation is that someone along the way was literally burying trash. It wasn’t healthy kitchen scraps they buried, it was pollution. I think of my rural gardens growing up; rich clean Central Pennsylvanian and Alaskan soil. It is beyond me why anyone would want to tarnish that which gives us life. Why would they want to fill it with, well, poison? Then I remember that redemption always comes. It may take forever, but it comes. As sad and gross as it is to pull trash from deep beneath my soil, there is great satisfaction in sifting through it and replacing it with fresh watermelon rinds, eggshells, and avocado peels knowing that doing so with gradually clean and feed the soil so worms can prosper and my little piece of earth can produce and thrive once more.

 

 

And yes, there is a lesson in all of this that has not escaped me. My garden, once again, is mirroring my life. I am pulling out the rancid, poisonous things that haunt me and making room for fresh new life to spring forth. I am finding what is still wick and nurturing and caring for it so it will bloom again.

 

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, writing

My Daughter is a Horse.

My daughter is a horse. I don’t mean she eats like a horse or looks like a horse. I mean she is galloping around the living room on all fours shaking her head and neighing like a horse. She leaps from couch to coffee table pretending she is leaping over a canyon with a rider on her back. She will only tell me once that she is a “running horse” and then I must understand her. She will stay in character for up to 30 minutes sometimes. She remains focused and true to her character and never breaks. She has carefully studied hours of videos of horses and intently watched horses in real life to perfect her character.

At first I thought it was annoying when she wouldn’t talk to me while in character or that she watched so many horse videos. I kept thinking, “ Gah! I have a weird 3-year-old.” But then, as happens a lot now, I learned something from her. She doesn’t just say “I’m a horse” and then act silly around the living room. She commits. She studies. She will not break. She practices daily. She experiments with how a horse might move on steps or furniture. She reacts to our dog and cat as a horse might react to them. She pulls grass from our yard or on our walks and pretends it is hay for the horse to eat. Her focus and commitment is incredible.

I want to be a writer as much as my daughter wants to be a horse. The difference is I just say it, or don’t say it all but think it, and then I go about my business of doing everything except writing. I am just jumping around life being silly and not having any commitment to my passion. How many of us say we want to do something or be something and then fill our lives with silly things that have nothing to do with what we truly desire? When did we lose that sense of play and of really truly wanting to BECOME something. When we were children and played firemen or police officers or queens, we committed to those roles. We really believed we were those things and we gave it our all.

I recently visited the house I lived in in rural Alaska. We lived on roughly four acres of land in a mostly birch forest in a fairly tiny house. There was an old chicken coop on the property that my siblings and I had turned into a play house. My memories of this place ended at age 10 when we moved. I remembered a white birch forest where the trees almost glowed. I remembered our small patch of grass as a brilliant green and the trails through the woods leading into magical lands of adventure. The old chicken coop was massive and looked like the home of the fairy queen. At night, the Aurora Borealis would dance across the tops of the trees with every color of the rainbow and hiss and crackle at us and we stood below it in our pajamas and moon boots. We could see every star and planet in the galaxy. They were so close we could almost touch them. As an adult, I walked around our old property and everything was just brown. There are a scattering of birch trees, but other trees are there as well. The chicken coop was tiny and not the least bit magical. The place from my memory was nowhere to be found. When do we stop seeing the world as a magical place? When does it suddenly become cynical and ugly?FullSizeRender (5)

Life is magical to my daughter right now. She understands play and imagination. She looks at our mess of an urban back yard and calls it our “secret garden.” She finds the tiniest flower growing from the tiniest weed and jumps with joy screaming “momma, look a beautiful flower!! I’ll pick it so we can put it on our table.” My initial reaction is to protect her from the cynicism and ugliness that I see as an adult. As I have been observing her and recognizing my own sadness, however, I think I am going to take a different approach. Instead of trying to protect her, I’m going to let my imagination come back. I am going to welcome her with open arms. I am going to join my daughter as she neighs and gallops and I’m going to see the magic in our little backyard.
And then I’m going to write about it because that is what writers do.

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Losing Dad

The Magic Hat

When my dad dies, there is one thing I want. It is not a trust fund or a car. It is not his computer or his cell phone. It is not the expensive Turkish rugs or antique furniture or house. No, when my dad dies, I want the old wool dress hat in the closet. You see, for a long time, I called it “the cancer hat.” I was four and five the last time he had cancer. He lost all his hair and he wore this hat. As a child, I believed that it was magic somehow. I believed he survived because he wore this hat.

I cannot tell you how many times I have taken that hat out of the closet and smelled it. The smell has remained the same for the last 30 years. It NEVER changed. It is, by far, the best thing I ever smelled. I believe it is the smell of magic. I believe it is the smell of hope.

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