Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Modest Harvest

"If you have a garden and you like food, then it is mad not to grow your own."  -Monty Don

I like Monty Don's garden writing quite a bit.  But, man, that kinda stings, Monty.  Am I mad?  I mean I like food as much as the next guy (okay, the extra weight around my mid-section will testify that I might like it a little more than the next guy) but I prefer to grow things that aren't very edible.  Like Japanese maples.

This is the produce aisle in my paved side yard.  From left to right: an espaliered Fuji apple tree,
Early Girl tomatoes, Eversweet strawberries, Kentucky Colonel mint, and  zucchini.  
 Though I have been trying.  A little bit.  I bought some new wine barrels this year and cleaned out some of my unused pots to grow vegetables in this summer.  I knew going in that my output wouldn't be as high as it would have been if I had devoted actual earth space to this endeavor but I was okay with that because we don't eat a lot of vegetables anyway.  
With that in mind, I picked these last night:

A few strawberries and some pole beans - some Italian variety I guess.

Yes, that is just five smallish strawberries and about a dozen pole beans.  Not enough to make a meal appetizer for myself let alone a family of three, but it was still met with some excitement when I brought them in. 

My daughter ate all but one of the strawberries I picked.  

Maybe someday more of my yard will be devoted to things we can eat but for now we're enjoying the modest harvest of this year and feeling a little less "mad" in the process. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I'm Getting Bluer Every Day

I’m sure this happens to everyone in some fashion.  A friend knows you majored in whatever you majored in while at college or, if you didn’t go to college, you developed a fondness for a certain area of interest.  That friend, therefore, assumes you paid attention in class and treats you like an expert on the subject whether you deserve it or not. 

I majored in English.  And now I’m expected to know things like how to diagram a sentence, how to write in iambic pentameter, and how not to dangle participles.  My ability to do those things is hit or miss.  Okay, it’s a total swing-and-a-miss when it comes to iambic pentameter. 

When I’m put to the test, I can often skirt a direct answer simply by saying something lofty like “Oh, that’s a really complicated answer.  I could explain it to you, but your mind would probably go into a boredom induced coma.  Just write it this way instead.”  But sometimes, there’s no getting out of it unscathed. 

A group of friends were sitting around talking the other morning when one of them remarked, “Some people show up and put on an apron.  Others show up and put a bib on.”  We all liked that metaphor.  “Wait, is that a metaphor or is it an analogy?” someone asked.  All eyes shifted my way. 

“Well, I can tell you for sure that it’s not a simile” I offered unhelpfully.     

Whether it’s a simile, a metaphor, an analogy or an allegory shouldn’t detract from its power.  That is why we use them; their power.  A pithy simile can make you nod in agreement like a bobblehead.  A well-placed metaphor can sock you with hurricane force.  An analogy has the staying power of an ancient oak tree.  And a thoughtful allegory can get you really worked up about the pig having absolute power around the farm. 

And this power can be found in surprising places if you learn to look for it. 

I found power while looking at a hydrangea in my front yard.  I’ve got nothing against a pink hydrangea (unlike Madonna) but I prefer blue so I have been adding aluminum sulfate for a couple years and you can see by the bloom on the left that it is starting to work. 

While I photographed this plant, it struck me that in some ways, our lives mirror this hydrangea.  The (almost) blue flowers are no more innately good or valuable than the pink flowers are.  And even though they look very different, they are part of just one body. 

In the same way, our lives, personalities, and relationships are filled with different things, often opposite things, that are no better or more valuable than the other.

I find this to be true when I consider how I straddle the line between maintaining healthy eating habits to help me live a long life and eating, drinking and being merry to help me live a full, rich life.

But it could apply to any number of things.  For instance, it could speak to how we spend our time: should we relax with a book or energize with a hike?  Or it could speak to how we spend our money: should we save for retirement or go on family vacation?  Or how we interact with others: should we offer selfless advice or just listen?  Should we let that comment slide or stand up for ourselves?  Should we be uncompromising in our convictions or should we learn to compromise?

Of course, if you know exactly who you are and who you are works for you just fine, there's certainly nothing wrong with a peaceful and consistent whitish-pink life.  

Or even an airy, light blue and white life with a little variegated background if that's your thing. 

I think what matters is that you take note of the colors around you and consider whether you're happy with them.  If not, you might want to add some aluminum sulfate to your life. 

And that aluminum sulfate is, of course, a metaphor for something else.  Unlike the apron and the bib which, I believe, is an analogy. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Inclined to Garden

The custodian at my office is an interesting guy.  He is a true custodian in the sense that he likes to take care of the building and the people in it.    

The other night he stopped by my desk to empty my garbage can and we spoke for a few minutes about the busy-ness of work and life.  I guess the conversation struck a cord with him because he stopped and thought for a moment before asking me, "Do you like quotes?"  I said I did.  He pulled out a little wallet and started looking through dozens of tiny scraps of paper.

Each little scrap had a typed quote on it.  I’ve seen these around the office and always thought it was cool that our custodian sought to inspire us by offering words of wisdom.

The quote he gave me said:

He told me to think about it for a while, let it sink in.  So I have. 

It has always been apparent to me that my ability to “act as I would incline” has been limited by circumstances.  For example, I know I can’t garden every day because I need to go to work.  And I know that some weekends are filled with other things – laundry, grocery shopping, weddings, tune-ups, or attacks of laziness – and that gardening can’t always take place then either.

But I suppose there was a part of me that believed these circumstances were just temporary.  And maybe the exact circumstances are temporary.  But capital letter “C” Circumstances will always be a part of life.  That is something I didn’t take to heart before.  In my daydreams, I imagine the luxurious life of retirement and how I’ll get to spend hours every day puttering around my yard.  It seems like nothing would restrict me then.  After all, not working 40 hours a week would free up a lot of time.  But who knows what life will be like when I reach retirement age?  It's entirely possible that I will have to deal with a bad back, limited funds, or a need to downsize into a smaller house.  Maybe pollution will be so bad that I won't want to go outside anymore?  Maybe there will be severe droughts and gardening will be criminalized? 

Although these thoughts were initially discouraging to me, I have come to see the positive side to realizing that there will always be limits in our lives.  It's a positive that this is true for all people so when it gets me down I know I can turn to other gardeners for sympathy or advice.  It's a positive that we can't get everything we want exactly when we want it.  I'm a firm believer that wanting something is often a better experience than actually getting (although I'm always open to testing this theory by getting the things I want just to be sure it still holds true).  And finally, I think our limits and circumstances force us to be creative and force us to make choices and those choices help clarify what matters most in our lives.  If nothing else got in the way, I might always choose gardening.  But things come up in life and those circumstances give me an opportunity to choose family, relationships, celebrations, and experiences that make life worth living. 

S'mores are one of the best things in life.