Monday, May 28, 2018

On Belay: When the Garden Is

I am incredibly excited to add a new Blogger to my rotation. I met Shelby Mathis while our husbands were stationed together in the Azores, and she has also come and worked on our farm! She will be posting every Monday!

I hurried inside as the thunder began to roll from the ominous clouds straight overhead. I tossed the remaining sack of compost and the hoe in the shed and gathered the seed packets up from the picnic table as the first drops fell from the sky. We'd wrapped up planting our vegetables just in the nick of time.

With the storm now raging outside, I tiptoed to the bathroom. I peeled off my dusty socks and side-saddled over the edge to wash my feet. As I watched the dirt and water swirl into patterns down the drain, I thought about the last time I had a successful garden.
On the island, I had vegetables nearly year-round. My Portuguese landlord helped me make a bed and run irrigation, a completely excessive luxury as I remember it raining constantly. The language barrier meant that at times I wanted to plant something in rows, he'd dump a seed packet erratically on the ground, shrug his shoulders and wish me luck (I think.) He'd transplant potatoes and carrots from his garden into mine. We both struggled to pronounce hugelkultur (it's German.) I could talk about gardening in broken Portuguese, but little else. "Cenoura" and "beterraba" were vocabulary words that came to mind before "carrot" or "beet" long after I'd left the island.

On our shared lot in the Azores, we spent the fall stomping grapes for wine, making aguardente (Portuguese moonshine), roasting potatoes alongside bacalhau (codfish), harvesting coffee berries off the bushes rooted deep below rings of warming lava rocks, and plucking figs off high branches and stuffing them straight in our mouths.

The veggies I planted on the island basically grew themselves. I know, what a concept! But when you've really only lived in hot, water-scarce places (South Central Texas, high desert New Mexico, and the Colorado Front Range) that's not the usual experience. We once went on a trip to another island for four days and came back to zucchini larger than most newborns.

Last year, we planted a few pepper plants and zucchini and some herbs, but nothing took. I would've taken hotdog-size zucchini, but we were left with crispy leaves and a super-sized water bill. We didn't know just how poor the soil conditions were. We underestimated the amount of water the garden would require. We didn't plant until late July. We knew it really was too late, but we had just gotten home from a two-month long roadtrip where we began to feel like we'd lost our roots along the way.

This year is different enough. We might be a little late, but we couldn't have planted any sooner. Four weeks ago was last frost. Three weeks ago, my husband and I were both out of town on separate trips. Two weeks ago, we rushed to Missouri after an unexpected death in the family. Last week, we were just keeping our head above water and trying to catch up from all the time away.

We couldn't have planted a garden any earlier, because as usual, we were on the move. Fingers crossed, we didn't miss the short optimal window for planting. But we may have.

My awareness returned to the scrubbing of my heels in the tub. I could hear the thunder rolling and thought about how my mom never let us shower during lightning storms when I was a kid. I don't imagine she'd be too happy with me doing it now.

I dried off my legs and went to the kitchen. I stood at the sink and arranged my newly planted herbs on the window sill. The rain continued to pound and a few bursts of popcorn-size hail fell. As I looked out over our new garden, I hoped this storm wouldn't be too stressful for the transplants or too aggressive for the shallow coverings over the seeds we'd just dropped. Either way, we had a garden. And this time, we'd be sticking around to see it through.

It's been three years since we've lived somewhere long enough to plant a real garden in the proper season. It's been three years since I could expect which trees would bloom in my own yard. It's been three years since we've  felt stable enough to invest time and energy in a garden we knew we'd be around to care for and eat from. It's been three years since I've felt like I was home.

We've moved a lot. I've traveled a lot. I've been to places and back again and sometimes the place is different and I'm the same, but most of the time the place is the same and I'm the one who's changed.

I've thought a lot about home in the last few transient years. What does it mean? What qualifies? What does and doesn't it feel like? Because I'd forgotten. I longed to put down roots in a house, in a community, in a church, in a city, in a garden. You sacrifice those things with every move and seasons of long-term travel, and what it was like to have them were fading memories for me.

Maybe home isn't just people, or a zipcode, or a nation. Maybe home isn't just where others need to know you're from so they can judge if you're "one of them". Maybe home is time. Maybe it's when you know your neighbors. Maybe it's when your IDs and cards and licenses all have the same address that go on your taxes next year. Maybe it's when you have house plants. Maybe it's when you stop feeling like a transplant. Maybe it's when you plant a garden -- plant anything -- you'll be around long enough to harvest.

Maybe home isn't where the heart is. Maybe sometimes home is when the garden is.

Climb on,

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