Panicky, overwhelmed, weeds everywhere I looked, purple-leaved tomatoes languishing in their battered metal cages: My garden looked the way I felt.
I’d been fighting to stave off panic, and the chaotically overgrown garden seemed a physical manifestation of my frantic mind. My husband had announced that we’d need new siding—the basement walls had begun to leak, and we couldn’t put off that project any longer. Our income is low; he’s a mechanic working for an hourly wage and no health insurance, while I work several part time jobs for around minimum wage.
Despite our meager income, frugal living had served to keep us solvent. I hung laundry, shopped at the Bent and Dent, rarely ate out, never went on vacation trips. Penny by penny, I’d accumulated a reassuring financial safety net.
But now the safety net is about to be pulled out and replaced by looming debt. I’ll be able to scratch out payments, but if anyone in this family needs a doctor or a car breaks down, we’re in trouble.
Even though my inclination is to panic, I know we’re still fortunate compared to many (probably most) American families. We have a credit card that we could fall back on in an emergency and family who would take us in if necessary. And maybe the Job Gods will finally smile upon me.
At least, that’s what logic tells me, but I’m having a hard time listening to it. Fortunately, my garden is easier to listen to. This is what it tells me:
1. THINGS ARE NOT AS BAD AS THEY SEEM. I learned this a few days ago when a long-awaited break in the rain allowed me to tackle the weeding. As I pulled away the grass and ground ivy, I found a reassuring number of vegetable seedlings huddled and healthy underneath.
2. I HAVE MORE THAN I REALIZE I HAVE. What appears to be a chaotic mass of weeds between the corn, squash, and pumpkin hills is actually a garden in its own right. The pictures below seem to show just weeds, but a closer examination reveals kale (a LOT of kale), dill, Sweet Annie, purple amaranth, and mustard, all scions of the previous year’s garden plants. Even the weeds, mostly lamb’s quarters, are edible and nutritious.
3. GOOD THINGS COME IN THEIR OWN TIME. I’d been panicking about the plants that seemed to be failing to arrive. But time passed, the soil warmed, and the seedlings came.
4. LIFE IS RESILIENT. I’d also been worried about the marked lack of honeybees this year, wondering if my prolifically blooming apple trees would remain barren due to their absence. And would the strawberries I’d worked so hard to save be able to yield any fruit? But the bumblebees and other miniscule native bees appear to have stepped up to the plate, and fruit is fattening on the branches. Other cases in point include the tomatoes, most of which seemed almost dead for quite awhile but now have recovered, the locust tree whose top was killed by drought and wasps last summer but which is growing back from the roots, and the baby maple I accidentally split when I tried to transplant it away from the driveway. I didn’t think it could survive, but I taped the sundered trunk and planted it anyway. As you can see, it’s alive and beginning to grow. Speaking of trees, there’s also the American chestnut tree that my family and I planted two years ago. I’d pulled it up in its first month, thinking it was a weed, and I’d questioned its survival despite hastily re-planting it when I realized my mistake. It’s still tiny, but it’s still alive.
5. EVEN IF I DON’T GET WHAT I WANT, I NEED TO APPRECIATE THE GIFTS I AM GIVEN. I’d had beautiful visions of a neat, organized, thriving garden, but I ended up throwing things into the ground and planting around volunteer seedlings when the time came. Some things also died, including the redbud tree I’d transplanted after being told it was too close to the septic system. But for each thing that didn’t go my way, there was at least one unexpected gift. The following are images of just a few plants that appeared with little or no help from me:
So I’m going to heed the counsel of my garden and have faith that things will work out in the end. Instead of being in a state of perpetual anxiety, I’ll try to do what Walt Whitman described in “Song of Myself”: “I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”
It definitely beats worrying.