Scenes from a Bumper Crop – September 16

As our closing date and the harvest approached last year, a sadness settled in.  I would be leaving my garden before it came to fruition.  We’d enlarged it the spring before we left, adding more and different plants.  Carrots, green onions, cucumbers.  At least my herbs would travel well in pots that could go from a home beside one backdoor to another.

But, I realized, the woman leaving this house probably packed a similar burden amidst her belongings.  She’d left a vegetable garden even larger than our new and improved one.  Hot peppers guarded the perimeter, mixed greens and a lone acorn squash hunkered down inside.  A boatload of parsley and a few tomatoes.  Though it was the tail-end of the season, we were able to reap the benefits of her labor the same way the man and woman who bought our house would ours.

I am not as adventurous a cultivator as the previous occupant.  Nor as zealous a waterer apparently.  And I don’t fertilize.  BUT we’re still eating fresh green beans and have cucumbers coming out of our ears.  I tried to capture the beautiful purple pattern of a lone green bean as I prepped dinner.  Then I broke out a few beans with the idea that I’d dry them as seed for next year.  That’s when things got crazy 🙂

Hey, why garden if it’s not fun!

Mmm, mmm, green (and purple)

Mmm, mmm, green (and purple)

Have a green day!

Have a green day!

Weeds

The mosquitoes actually held off long enough the other night for me to do some weeding in our vegetable garden.  In that time shortly before the gloaming, when the heat of the day was finally fading as the sun dipped between the trees and the wind rose up to fill its space, I loosened the earth all around my feet, gently extricating snap pea tendrils from crab grass claws.  There were weeds with plump, red stalks that looked like they would ooze moisture if I snapped them.  There were delicate rounded leaves with lacy white flowers.  They were under and around and throughout – an integral part of my garden – perhaps more numerous than the plants that were supposed to be there.

At times, I had to stand back and survey the leafy patch below me.  Bent over in the worst possible posture for my back, it was hard to distinguish the plants from the weeds.  At eye level, all the leaves blended into one range of green.  It was hard to tell where the clover ended and the pea leaves began.  The heart-shaped leaves of the green beans melded with tall stalks of pointed leaves.  There were even imposter marigolds with tiny yellow buds.

It almost scares me, the uncanny ability of nature to so closely mimic ‘actual’ plants with its weeds and then to germinate them right next to the others so they have the best possible chance at survival by blending.  Think about it, the first weeds a gardener pulls – even if it’s in the five-second walk to her driveway – is the tall spindly one sticking out like a sore thumb.  These others are stealth, imposters of the best kind – or most insidious depending on whose side one takes.

It’s no wonder, then, that I have a hard time distinguishing my bad habits from productive practices; destructive behaviors from healthy ways of being.  The roots of the less desirable plants of my life are invasive, wrapping themselves around my more likeable attributes and behaviors, making themselves almost impossible to extricate – or at least harder to distinguish or even notice.  Without stepping back to take stock, my life is one solid plane of green, weeds and all; the different shades and shapes indistinguishable.

Making the rounds at our local farmers’ market, I stopped to talk with a woman who had woven some beautiful baskets (who also happens to know a thing or two about gardening; she harvests worms for composting).  One skinny, oblong one with a graceful arch of a handle caught my daughter’s eye.  The woman directed my attention to a small ceramic plaque stitched to its front.  ‘Weeds’, it said.  She told me of the Native American tradition of placing their worries in a basket such as this to put them away; make them go away.  I joked how you could also take weeds as a literal worry as a gardener.

But as the day went on, I marveled at how symbolic that little basket and the word etched on its front were.  If I don’t take the time to stuff those weeds into a receptacle of some sort, they will crowd out the good in my life.  The weeds of worry, perfectionism, over-catastrophizing, unrealistic expectations, not prioritizing, not slowing down enough to come to a gentle stop rather than a screeching halt.  I need to cultivate my garden in such a slow, gentle way that I see the weeds as they pop up and handle them one by one, rather than waiting to turn the earth over and start over because they’ve taken over.

I think I need a bigger basket . . .

I think I need a bigger basket . . .

Chainsaws Explained

Or How I Learned to Love the Saw. . .

In my telling of eleven random facts about myself as part of my Liebster Award duties, the fact that I wanted a chainsaw ranked as # 10.  I followed it up with a # 11 that said that I was not, in fact, a psycho-killer, but some apparently were not convinced.

My aunt, an ardent supporter through all my trials, approached me and said, “Now, Jen, I know why you want a chainsaw, but others may not – and given the nature of some of your other posts . . .”  She let the sentence drop, but the silence that followed said it all.  As did our laughter, which has gotten our family through many a tense situation.

Mere weeks after we moved into our new home, Hurricane Sandy paid a visit, leaving numerous housewarming gifts in the form of downed trees and power lines.  An extremely generous and helpful friend – with a chainsaw – helped us gain access to our front door and clean up our front yard, but two-thirds of a substantial oak trunk lies askew on the hill in front of our house, as well as tangled branches and pine boughs.  With cold weather approaching and a passably clean swath of land surrounding our home, my husband was satisfied.

But as spring starts to take hold in our corner of the woods, my gardening gene is kicking into full effect.  I grew up in the suburbs on a tidy plot of land my mother whipped into sunny submission.  I learned the names of perennials, the joys of collecting random stones for use as borders, and how to identify, deadhead, and divide.  Here in the “wilds”, not only do I have a different landscape to contend with, but completely foreign flower beds.  I feel like a detective as I scout the yard for tulip leaves poking out of the dirt.  I don’t know what’s there.  But I do see the possibilities.

Just beside our monument to downed trees is a slight opening cascading down the hill to the street.  There are two Charlie Brown Christmas trees at the top, set three to four feet apart, scrawny sentinels at the beginning of what I’m determined to turn into a woodland path/garden.  I envisioned a shade garden, as our house is north-facing and the dining room at the front of the house has been a cave all winter, but as the weather warms and the sun moves higher in the sky, the hill is actually bathed in sunshine for a good portion of the day.  Now I need to change my game plan slightly, but I’m dreaming of hens and chicks, phlox, lavender, ferns poking out and growing in amongst the fieldstone steps I’ll build into the hill.

Enter the chain saw.

I’m nature girl.  Once upon a time, I walked through the woods on my wee little legs burnishing my Audubon bird call.  I prefer kayaks to motor boats.  I always used my shears instead of electric clippers when I shaped the forsythia bushes at my former home.  So, why this antithetic shift in my philosophy?

tree trunk

That darn oak trunk is cramping my idyllic woodland knoll.  I can’t start relocating pieces of ledge from my backyard to the staircase at the front of my yard until I move it and the mess of broken limbs it created as it fell and then got thrown back down the hill.

Will I use the chain saw myself?  If I can lift the thing and maneuver it properly.  Am I exploiting my husband’s Tim-the-Toolman-Taylor penchant for power tools?  Perhaps.  But if a portion of our tax refund monies will be used toward a quality chainsaw capable of removing that current eyesore and potential firewood from my hill, I will be a happy camper.

So there are no nefarious plots wrapped up in my desire for a heavy piece of mangling machinery.  Phew.  Got that off my chest.

Then today my husband goes on the manufacturer’s website for the chainsaw he’s interested in, which has a plethora of instructional/informational videos.  From my spot on the other side of the room, I listened vaguely, mostly cracking jokes at the running commentary of the video.  Then, at 1m 30s in the “How to Safely Operate a Stihl Saw 8”, came the piéce de résistance.

After the disembodied (ha – ironic) voice states that one of the required supplies is a first aid kit, he states that one should “never operate [his] chainsaw if [he’s] not in good physical condition or mental health”.  At which point, the kids came from the other room to see at what I was laughing so heartily.

“Well, I guess that means I’ll be the one operating it, then,” says my husband, deadpan for a moment before he cracked up, too.

After I slugged him, I said I was laughing because I had more of a ‘Jason’ scenario in mind, not me.  But I guess it does fit the profile of what my aunt was talking about.

I am hereby taking the oath that I will not use any chainsaw to harm myself or others – just that damn tree trunk in the way of my calming woodland retreat.

*** And it did not escape my attention that at the beginning of all the instructional Stihl videos, it stressed the importance of attending to all eleven chapters of information.  Eleven seems to be the magic number.  Just as one can’t fully understand proper chainsaw operation and maintenance without viewing all eleven, so one won’t know I’m not a psychokiller unless you read through to the eleventh random fact. Qu’est-ce que c’est

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