Garden Notes: Rough Drafts

Every spring when time comes to weed my flower beds, the good work of it nearly kills me. And every spring, in response to my complaints about the honest work of garden tending, my husband threatens to sow grass over all my lovely blooms. I believe him just enough to find the inner fortitude required to finish the job.

I have stirred ant armies, awakened the curled grub in her buried bed, inadvertently found the source of the poison ivy, and pried the roots of wild violets from beneath my butterfly bush. Yesterday, I killed a Black Widow spider I found clinging to a daylily stalk. Every year, after bug bites, skin rashes, suffering amazingly obscure aches and pains, and consuming copious amounts of ibuprofen, I survey the work of my hands and dream a better way. I imagine planting miraculous ground covers to choke out the weeds, eye-catching perennials that require little attention, or even evergreens to lend a simpler style. Trouble is, I usually only get around to implementing a small portion of these dream-plantings, and they never quite work out as I hoped.  Come the next spring, things are a little better, but—you guessed it—I’m still on my hands and knees far longer than this aging body should be.

But when the blooms unfold one-by-one and the garden becomes a thing of beauty? I know all that time and diligence and love for the soil was worth it.

I try to fertilize the garden of my writing through careful reading and recently, I read this:

 As you start out in rough drafts, writing down stories as clearly as you can, there begins to burble up onto the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and a human being. If you trust the truth enough to keep unveiling yourself on the page—no matter how shameful those revelations may as first seem—the book will naturally structure itself to maximize what you’re best at. You’re best at it because it sits at the core of your passions.” ~Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

Certain things can immobilize me in an instant: a glimpse of a red-bellied woodpecker on the trunk of my Maple tree, sunlight rippling on water, a solitary cloud rolling across crystal blue, and a phrase that ambushes me with apt precision.

Mary Karr’s words seemed to breathe a deep exhale in my soul: “…there begins to burble up on the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and as a human being.”

Those words, stark and black against the white of the page, fell heavy over me and I realized how life mirrors this statement. With each passing year we hammer out rough drafts of this life we craft—meticulously honing in on what is best to keep and what must be cast aside, letting what is “exclusively” ours “burple up” from the moments. And just as my garden takes shape over the long stretch of years, none of these seasons we sift through are ever perfected—it’s a constantly shifting landscape. But if we are true to the draft-writing—or draft living, in this case—we keep what is best and let go of the rest. The next season may be a little better for the pruning, but chances are, it will still have its fair share of  bending and tending to  push through.

I’ve never written a memoir, though the world of blogging bestows plenty of opportunity to offer up bits of my life for the perusal of others. This kind of voyeurism can leave one feeling vulnerable and small at times. Isn’t each life worthy of memoir? When we live through each the days, don’t the moments tell a story? What if I could think of each season of life as a rough draft, trusting in the truth enough to keep unveiling myself, to keep growing and learning and reaching for more? Letting time and diligence and love shape something that becomes more beautiful with each passing year.

Garden Notes: Pinto Beans

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This summer my garden has been a lonely little plot. Between neglect due to family concerns, critter issues, and a rainier-than-the-norm season, my sweet little plantlets haven’t had much room to thrive. This morning when I walked Bonnie around the house, the withered pods of pinto beans caught my eye. Pintos are best dried on the vine but one glimpse of those yellowed husks told me I’d waited too long for picking. I dodged another summer shower to harvest them in. Then I sat at the kitchen table hulling the mottled beans and watching through the bay window as rain gave the back yard a good scrubbing. The papery husks split easily between my fingers and I dumped their contents onto newsprint to dry. I’ve always found the steady practice of stringing beans relaxing and soon fell into a reverie from peeling the skin off the pintos to the rhythm of rain.

We haven’t had much time to rest since returning from our family holiday. We went straight from joy into grief and our spirits are so tired. Summer is taking her last gasps and we feel her passing with regret. So many things have been left undone because our presence was required elsewhere. We would not have it any other way, of course. The time spent grieving and loving together has deepened our understanding of life—our hearts have been stretched further than we could imagine. But all the while we reel with a loss of home. Our roots have been lifted out from under us. It feels scary, unbalanced, this knowledge that loss might come again unbidden. We long for the ordinary, for things to go back the way they were. We long for the safety of home, that comfort that comes from all that is familiar and good.

When my boys were little, in their preschool room was a large plastic bin filled with pinto beans. The children loved to dig their hands down into the beans, all the way up to their elbows. The beans were cool and smooth, too small to be a choking hazard, and easily cleaned up if spilled. The children delighted to scoop and pour, making the sound of rain as the beans tinkled into bowls or cups or the backs of toy dump trucks. I remember tiny fingers combing trails through beans as I peel away the dried skins of my pintos. I caress the smooth shell of each bean and drop it into the pile. I scoop the dried fruit up in my hands when I am done, rejoicing in the coolness of each tiny circlet.

Who would believe the life nestled inside such an unassuming little seed?

My troubled little garden is helping me find my way home again. Pinto beans and cornbread are a thing here in West Virginia. When I was a girl, how I would tire of this common meal. But somehow? I know these beans I have hulled today will taste better than any I’ve ever eaten.

Garden Notes: Small Harvest

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This morning when I rise and take Bonnie out for her morning constitutional I notice the dark lingers longer around the edges of the horizon. The days are already shortening and summer has only just begun taking root in my heart. My garden feels it too.

One of my favorite things about returning home from a summer holiday is discovering what my garden has been up to in my absence. Sometimes I return to find the green beans overflowing the vines—ready to be picked and canned. Sometimes my tomatoes are so ripe the plants bend over from the weight of them. Cucumbers await pickling, summer squash begs to be fried up for dinner, and zucchini fairly overruns that little corner of the yard. Sometimes the garden is a happy thing to return to after vacation, like waking from a good sleep on Christmas morn—all these good things seem to appear overnight.

This year was not one of those times. When we returned from vacation this year, thoughts of the mighty Mississippi and the white sands of the gulf coast still lapping at our minds, I found my garden had been invaded. Last year I had trouble with bean beetles and a red-bellied woodpecker, but this year the word about my sweet little garden seems to have spread to all the critters. Deer and rabbits made short work of my bush beans—chewing them down to little nubs. My summer squash were all but obliterated, only a few spindly vines remaining. And my tomatoes? The birds had pecked holes in several, leaving me with a fierce longing for a BLT.

There was not time to grieve. I went on the offensive. I purchased one of those owl statues at our Home Depot and perched him high above my tomatoes, hoping to frighten off the birds and rabbits. I mixed up my milk solution and sprayed my remaining beans to deter the deer. I cleaned out the deadening squash and cucumber vines and fertilized the meager remains.

Then I watched.

To be a gardener means to be slightly obsessive, I’m learning. I haunted the bay window overlooking the back yard for the next few days. If the slightest movement stirred in the garden, I jumped on it. There seem to be less birds flitting about, but a few brave feathered ones have not been fooled by my new garden guardian. When I found more Romas with puncture wounds in them, I upped the strategy: Bird Block. This mesh lining is draped over the garden so plants are protected from hungry invaders. In theory. We shall see.

We’ve been home from vacation for two weeks now, and the garden is coming around. This morning I picked green beans—let the slow work of stringing and cleaning them minister to my spirit. The harvest will be much smaller this year but maybe that is for the best. We are still having trouble getting back into the routine after my father-in-law’s death. My husband tells me he is can’t seem to care about the usual things. It’s hard to mow the grass, do the laundry, get up in the morning for work … it’s hard to go on as if nothing has changed. Some dear friends have brought us meals every night this week. We have been held in love as we grieve. I feel myself growing soft and fat under their care. It feels nice.

This afternoon I am canning the green beans I picked this morning. Soon I will have jalapeños to pickle and can, and I hope, cucumbers. Time has a way of mending things. Time has a way of softening the wounds.

I’m so honored to be featured over at The Life Letter Cafe in an interview with David Miller. I talk a little about my faith journey and Playdates with God. I would love if you’d join us over there

 

Garden Notes: Velveteen (or One Way to be Really Real)

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Saturday night shimmered with the first fireflies. They beamed at us from high in the Maple tree, announcing summer with each winking light. It has been hot, more like July than May. And now June comes calling with her promise of fresh-mowed lawns and swimming pools. It feels like I blinked and missed spring.

Last night, I picked the last of the kale from my garden. I took the kitchen shears and snipped the leaves down to the quick. Then, I separated out the stems, meticulously pinching each sharp-smelling leaf from it’s purpled anchor. I left a pile of stems and discarded, yellowed leaves for the bunnies over by the fence. Don’t ask me why I would feed those thieving rodents. They ate most of my first kale crop. In the past, I’ve had trouble with deer, trouble with goats, and trouble with a red-bellied woodpecker, but the rabbits have never discovered how to hop up into my raised beds until this year. And those rascals are picky! They feasted on kale but left all my lettuces untouched. But yesterday, as we peered out the bay window while nibbling dinner, a tiny baby bunny peeked out from underneath my lilac bush. My heart melted. Velveteen, I thought, remembering my favorite children’s tale. That tiny face reminded me to love better, to be real.

I only wonder if baby bunnies like kale stems. We shall see. I have other plantlets to worry over now. The pole beans I planted under the greens are already vining up toward the sun, and my cucumbers and summer squash have poked through their seedy beginnings to lift helicopter faces through the soil. I’ve planted about half the tomato and pepper plants for the season, but must wait until I clear out the remaining lettuce to finish the planting.

Have I mentioned how gardening helps me slow down? The mental health benefits of gardening have long been documented. Researchers have linked gardening with everything from reduced stress to reduced belly fat, but for me? Tending this little patch of earth is a way of loving. With each leaflet I free from this loamy bed, I step out of myself and into the beginnings of nourishing. Not just my family, but my soul. When I think of the first garden, I get lost in the wonder of it all—this big magic of growing things, seed planting, pruning, and praying over a patch of soil.

Gardening is a way of changing the world.

And I’ve always wanted to be a world changer. When I grow and eat my own food, share it with others … this is a way of bringing the Kingdom into the here and now. The Holy comes close as I tend this little patch of earth I’ve been given.

That’s really real. Velveteen.

31 Days of the Almost Empty: Growing Season

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Last night we had our first frost, awakened this morning to a diaphanous gossamer on every blade of grass. I forgot to cover what’s left of my garden, the few fledgling peppers waiting to mature. At first sun, Bonnie and I waded through the crispy grass to assess the damage. The kale is beautiful; cold crop that it is. I picked some to sauté with my eggs this morning. Add in a little fresh pepper and onion, and this is my favorite fall breakfast. But the peppers did look a little peaky. The jalapeños are definitely heartier than the bell peppers, but I think both crops will be fine. There is a freeze warning tonight, so I must decide—do I want to extend my growing season just a wee bit?

By now you’ve probably figured out that I have trouble with transitions. I went through a time when I tried to psychoanalyze this—revisited my childhood and all that. These days I find this approach incredibly boring. Knowing the why doesn’t necessarily make a bridge across my neuroses. I’ve labeled myself: Adult Child of Alcoholic, abandonment issues, fear of intimacy … None of these names are very kind.

These days, I see my character traits with more loving eyes. Things, people, moments—they mean a lot to me. This is nothing to be ashamed of.

Tonight, I will drape a light sheet over my garden. I’m not ready for the growing season to end. The weatherman tells me we will have a warm spell next week. This frosty weekend will hurry along the turning of the leaves.

But I hope it doesn’t take my peppers.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Only a couple days left to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway!

Almost Empty