On Gardening and Other Matters

It wasn’t a good garden year for me. We got a late start in the Catskills with building our raised beds. I decided to try a new brand of seeds, many of which didn’t take. My coddled Italian artichokes never made more than a few spikey leaves. The hundreds of sunflower seeds I planted were seized by birds or chipmunks. As for the parsley and kale, I surrendered them to the black swallowtail caterpillars because they were more important, frankly. Next year, I said. I’ll be more organized and on top of things, things will turn out. Next year, I will try again.

To plant a seed is a lesson in order and chaos. There are fat years and there are lean years whether my rows are straight or not. There is sudden destruction, whether by bugs or rabbits, or droughts or floods, or chemicals. But I always plant again, faithful.

Two days a week I walk through the Catskill woods and meadows, spreading seeds and tending with love and attention that isn’t always returned. Five days a week I am lazy and complacent. 

I’ve left the area around my Jersey City home alone, ignoring it because I don’t like it, because it isn’t exactly what I want. I haven’t attempted any guerrilla gardening in years. I left the local community garden because I couldn’t deal with the politics. I’ve let others decide my surroundings, and my response has been to throw up my hands, my hands with clean fingernails, and say, “I want to leave.”

But we don’t all get to leave. I don’t get to leave, not yet. I still spend most of my time in the city, thinking of mountains.

There are two dead maples tree outside our apartment building. I sent a request online for the city to cut down and replace them, to no reply. Others called and emailed, and sometime last week, someone installed those tree watering bags around the trunks of the two now very obviously dead trees.

I spend a lot of time sitting and staring these days. It seems to be all I can muster. But today I ordered a bag of crocus bulbs. They remind me of my grandma, gone these ten years. She died at home, in our driveway as we were trying to take her to the hospital.

Today it is raining but it won’t always be, and when it’s not I will plant the bulbs in the extra space in the tree pits around our apartment building, including the two holding the dead maples. The bulbs will do their mysterious work in the dark and damp. Then the ground will freeze and the ground will thaw, and when it seems like winter will never end, their pale green will appear. They won’t all sprout; you always lose a few. But some will make it. And they will bloom, and then die, and something else will come along. 

Love fades, anger goes cold, hair turns grey. One friend’s cancer spreads; another shares news that she is pregnant. Leaves sprout, seeds drop. And so on. 

I have been saved by gardens before. I have seen myself reflected in gardens, and seen who I wished I could be.  When the new seed catalogs arrive in January, I will be ready.