Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

This Is Me.

Posted on | August 9, 2019 | 4 Comments

If you know any gardeners then you know that their gardens tend to resemble them. That person with a clean car, an integrated Google calendar, and a Dave Ramsey budget has a garden with perfect borders, straight rows, and neat plant markers. The person who pulls an outfit from the pile of clean laundry on the couch, leaves the plastic bags inside the cereal box ripped and gaping, and is always (at least) 10 minutes late has a garden with overflowing beds, a haphazard color scheme and some of last year’s dried husks still hanging from the trellis. It’s all OK–the garden does not judge (even if the neighbors do). The garden makes every effort to thrive where it is planted, which is probably a good life lesson for all of us.

My garden started out organized this spring. I rotated my crops appropriately, provided trellises and cage supports, grew beneficial companion flowers, and amended the soil with the last bit of compost in the barn. I even put down some weed cloth, which is not something I usually do, because I was expecting it to be a crazy busy summer. I thought the weed cloth might give me more time to focus on stuff outside the garden without worrying about weeds overrunning the plants.

Weed barriers were not enough preparation for my crazy busy summer. Not even close. My divorce got messy, I picked up way too much sidework to balance my finances, my teenagers tried to go off the rails, and my car decided to break down every 3-5 days. Weed barriers aren’t enough for that bullsh*t.

When I look back and think about the optimistic laying down of that weed cloth it reminds of when I walked into my divorce lawyer’s office for the first time.

“This is not going to be a problem,” I said. “We agree on everything for the most part and just need to do some paperwork.”

Now when my attorney and I recall that first conversation, we laugh and laugh and laugh. Then she hands me a bill for another $3,000.00

Weed cloth didn’t stand a chance against this summer. I staggered into the garden on occasion for produce, briefly taking note of developing pests and weeds, before rushing to make dinner for the boys, pick them up from one sport, drop them at the next sport, and then head into town to teach night class. Some mornings I slogged through the heavy dew to tie up the lankiest of plants, swearing I would mow as soon as the grass was dry in the afternoon. But by afternoon I was sitting at the local garage with a broken vehicle waiting for my parents to rescue me. Now at the height of summer, the garden is a jungle out of control—spring plants gone to seed, summer plants overgrown from months without pruning, weeds everywhere. It’s possible the weed cloth is still there, somewhere. It’s also possible the plants ate it back in June

Believe it or not, that’s a picture of the garden after I finally mowed it today. I had to put the mower on the highest setting and still stop to unclog it every 5 minutes. And even with the grass (sort of) mowed it still looked like….well, it looked like my life right now. Anyone driving by could take one look at my garden and know, “That gardener’s life is out of control.” I waitressed all though high school and college and we had saying on busy nights when we were falling behind on orders that we were “in the weeds.” People, we are in the weeds now.

But I didn’t even consider weeding that garden. Or pulling up the dead spring plants. Or pruning anything. At this point I just wanted to be able to walk through (most of) the rows to access the tomato plants. Not that the tomatoes were that spectacular. Horn worms, mildew, cracking and splitting were all taking their toll. Some of the tomatoes exactly mirrored the way I felt some of the days during the last 6 months. Have you ever felt like this? Yeah, I hear ya, mater.

So I walked along the tomato plants, pulling off the worst of the tomatoes and tossing them to the ground. Better for the plants to drop those tomatoes than to invest energy on broken, rotted fruit. After all, there were plenty of green tomatoes that just needed some time and sun to develop. Starting over was simply a matter of letting go. Which is another life lesson from the garden.

And as I moved along I couldn’t help but notice that the garden didn’t seem to mind the weeds or the chaos at all. There was the buzz of insects everywhere—bees, dragonflies, wasps, grasshoppers, those weird hummingbird moths. Butterflies were so prolific they brushed against my hair and my cloths as I walked. The sunflowers were broken and bent but although their majesty was lost, their seeds were still tempting the goldfinches dashing in and out of the garden for a snack.

At first glance the herbs were barely decipherable from the green around them. But when I knelt down I discovered they were all there—parsley, chamomile, lavender, basil, lovage, sage, mint, chives, oregano. Running my hands over the thick foliage filled the air with their scents. What is a little grass against the strength and power of herbs?

The truth is, upon closer inspection, the garden didn’t seem overwhelmed by the weeds at all. The garden seemed quite comfortable hanging out in the weeds. As if the weeds were just another stage of the cycle–nothing worth getting worked up over.

And that reminded me of when I showed up for a last-minute Sunday morning emergency therapy session. As soon as I got out of the car I started to tear up, only to find my therapist smiling broadly on the porch.

“It sounds like everything is completely out of your control,” he grinned. I nodded, choking on tears.

“Excellent!” he said, rubbing his hands together. “For the first time in your life you don’t have any control over things—you are a controlaholic at rock bottom!”

That’s good?” I sniffed miserably.

“Of course! When this time passes you can go right back to controlling every detail of your life. Or can choose to let some things go. But no matter what you will always know that even when everything is out of control, you’ll survive. Here you are—dressed, fed, on time, with a basket of tomatoes to share. Turns out maybe you didn’t need all that control after all. We should celebrate!”

This what a good therapist does, people. Takes your focus off all the little things. Helps you stand back and see the big picture. Lets you see the forest instead of just the trees. Or maybe the tomato plants instead of the weeds.

There was one garden row that I didn’t mow all the way through. I waited to take it on last because it was so thoroughly overgrown. It was where the wildflower bed and the blueberry bush bed were pretty much grown completely together. Oh, I tried to mow it. I was pushing the mower as hard as I could, occasionally tilting it up to let clumps of grass free, sometimes dragging it backwards to get a closer cut, but still the mower choked and stalled, choked and stalled. At one point the mower cut off and I stood there, pouring sweat, my arms shaking. I looked at the cosmos flowers that spread across the path.

I listened to the bees buzzing around happily.

I stood back and saw what I had accomplished. A barely discernible path, dead-ending in a spray of wildflowers. I knew there was some black plastic at the ends of the wildflower bed. I knew I had carefully placed weed cloth around each blueberry bush. But all that was lost in the brush. Somewhere on the other side of those cosmos, just past the overgrown tomatillos threatening to topple their cage, the path started up again. But it seemed like a lot of effort to mow those flowers down, just to get to the other side. So I stopped and started dragging the mower out of the garden, back up to the house. And when I looked back over my shoulder. I thought,

“Oh. That’s me.”

The garden always reveals the gardener. And there I was in that half-mowed row. Those pretty pink blooms with their happy bees, all mixed up with the best laid plans overrun with weeds. A clearing on the other side, a bit of unknown inbetween.

That path didn’t look great, but it wasn’t all that alarming either. Just had a lot of stuff going on. And some of those cracked and blemished tomatoes I found on the tomato plants still made incredible tomato sandwiches. Weeds ain’t got nothin’ on a fresh tomato sandwich.


4 Responses to “This Is Me.”

  1. Jill J Hallenbeck
    August 10th, 2019 @ 3:22 am

    Outstanding! And thanks for the maters!!

  2. Roanne von Hagen
    August 10th, 2019 @ 8:01 am

    Excellent post, S.
    Gramma R, who has been gone for 6 years today, is proud of your strength and perseverance.
    Keep on keepin’ on.

  3. Jane Taylor
    January 3rd, 2020 @ 10:02 am

    Hi Stevie, I have been reading your blog since 2012. I feel Like i know you. Loved the unexpected cosmos! Please don’t stop writing. Your blog is better than many books I have read. Just FYI, I’m almost 70 and every new decade has been better than the last, once you move out of the might-have-beens and into those unexpected bright spots!
    THank you for Ruffled Feathers.
    Jane probably no relation but did you have a great grandmother named Kate? Taylor

  4. Jane Taylor
    June 10th, 2020 @ 6:15 am

    Just checking in – I care about you and you quit posting! Please consider an update or if you need someone to actually talk to, email? And i think you could turn that blog into a book…

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