I've had gardens before. Some have even been spectacular. Others...ehhh...just average. To quote an old Salsa song, however, I've always contended that "de acuerdo a la semilla, asi seran los frutos que cosecheras." That is to say...according to what you plant, so shall you harvest. More or less.
So...I planted sweet corn. And beans and tomatoes. Those, I knew, would be eaten. I planted some beets, because I'm one of those crazy people who actually love both the way they taste and the way they smell when you cook them. Pure earth. I planted potatoes, and cucumbers, zucchini and collards, acorn squash...arugula and onions.
I figured what the hell...I have the space, I have the knack...I get full sun. It will put some fresh produce on the table, in the freezer and in a few canning jars.
It is doing most of those things, but the summer isn't yet over. The harvest, at least here in the Northwest, has only been coming on for the past 4 weeks. The tomatoes are still sitting there on the vines, playing hard to get. "Maybe I will...maybe I won't." Tomatoes are the most...excuse me for saying so...female of all the garden crops. You think you know what you're doing...but you aren't really sure until you get a good crop of fruit. And sometimes you get a great crop, and other times you get nada...and you swear to yourself..."what did I do any differently?"
But I digress.
What I've found with this garden, this year...is that perhaps the best thing I have reaped so far from it...is something I didn't plant, and didn't anticipate. As much produce as it has provided so far, it has provided that much and more in terms of my own mental health. It has soothed me and calmed my spirits, even as it feeds me.
I don't think I'll ever NOT have a garden again, no matter what is going on in the economy.
It helps to come from a long line of gardeners. Both sets of my grandparents planted gardens well up into their 70's. My parents? no...that was part of their childhood that the postwar boom happily allowed them to leave behind. Their version of a garden was a well kept lawn and some roses. That was their loss, as far as I'm concerned. But I understand it. For them, gardens were a thing of necessity as they grew up. And cans of Green Giant corn or peas in the pantry were a badge of having moved beyond that stage in life. Gardens were for poor folk. Who had time for it, when you could buy ten cans for a dollar of over cooked mush that pretended to be vegetables at Safeway?
I never had such associations between working the soil and poverty as part of my makeup. For me, a garden has been a small way of paying tribute, in a sense, to my roots. When I look at my garden, I can't help but be reminded of the gardens I remember as a kid, at my grandparents' house, or those of my other relatives. I feel connected to a tradition, in a way...which brings me to the topic at hand.
This garden. My garden. This year. Has saved me.
How? In ways I can't begin to explain, but will try to hint at. I have been unemployed for just over 2 years now. That's a long haul. A long, downward haul. It takes a toll upon you that, beyond the obvious, manifests itself in many different ways. It robs you of savings, it slowly impoverishes you. It steals your sense of self worth and purpose. It makes you question your own value and your own sense of who you are. It corrodes relationships. Eventually, it even invades your dreams and robs sleep itself of its restorative capacity.
It sucks. In ways that others here, who are more eloquent than I, have already explained. Laurustina said it best, and upon reading her diary, I printed it off and carry it in my pocket. It touched me that way.
But here's what happened with me. I planted this garden. And it started to grow. And I started to weed it. And it grew more.
And I discovered that it became a respite from the chaos in my life. All of the disorder, all of the unanswered questions, all of the uncertainty...all of the doubt...I was able to, on a small scale, beat into submission within the confines of my patch of green. It won't say little patch of green, because it's not very small. It's not huge, but by urban standards...it's a pretty impressive garden.
And here's what it's done for me.
It has, as I said, provided order in my life...when I most needed it.
I love the straight rows of vegetables...cleanly weeded. My life is a mess, but my garden is most certainly not a mess. It is organized...clean...and what grows there is what I want to grow there. I find that comforting. Reassuring. Evidence that, in a miniscule way, I am capable of imposing my will upon the disorder of nature.
It allows me to be generous, when I have precious little to be generous with. I am able to give vegetables to my neighbors and pretend to be just like them...a real human being, capable of giving as well as receiving. I can't tell you how rewarding this is...it saves my humanity at times.
It gives me a purpose, when sometimes I feel as though I have none. I walk through the garden in the late evening, and see beans that need to be picked tomorrow, or zucchini that will be too large within 18 hours. And tomorrow has a structure, if only tentatively...I can't expire in my sleep tonight...there's beans that need picking in the morning.
I know that sounds stupid...pathetic even...but all I can tell you is that if it weren't for this garden, I would still eat...but I'm not sure if I'd still be alive.
It is, in its small way...hope. Hope that prods you by saying...hey! there's weeds here. There's cucumbers that need to be picked! Get off your ass and take care of some shit that needs to be taken care of.
I need that. And my garden has given me that.
As well as several pints of tasty canned goods.