This was the summer I finally was going to get my vegetable garden going again.
I got out soon as the ground could be worked in May to reclaim my 20 x 15-foot patch—beautifully situated in full sun— from the plethora of weeds spreading rampant and happy in the rich earth.
I pulled weeds, turned over soil and tackled several virtually indestructible sumacs that had sprung up, one in the middle of the stand of rhubarb at the garden’s edge. This rhubarb is the only non-weed in my garden besides a small stand of obstinate chives. I trimmed back the hemlock boughs and sawed down three maple saplings, saving their slender trunks for a rustic arbor I imagine creating someday.
Land cleared, I was ready! I went to the greenhouses around the corner and filled my wagon with baby broccoli plants, red and buttercrunch lettuce in six packs, celery, collards, marigolds, and basil. I would come back for the kale, cherry tomato, parsley, cucumber, and watermelon plants, for a few varieties of squash, and go somewhere else to find cilantro and arugula.
Finally, after a few dormant years, my garden would thrive and me with it.
That’s what I thought.
First, there was the groundhog I spotted from a second floor window early one morning. He or she was squatting a few yards from my fertile rectangle. I had competed with one in the past who always managed, with uncanny precision, to beat me to the harvest.
I googled groundhog, aka woodchuck, seeking how to free my garden of his presence. I decided against relying exclusively on asking him respectfully to leave, or getting a gun, or planting a bomb in his tunnel (which I had discovered to be under my pantry), or making woodchuck steaks (recipes in an old Mother Jones magazine article). Instead, I chose option E: setting a trap–one with a heart.
Casey, the kind, steady, straw-hatted man who comes to cut my grass with his battery-powered mower, was the one who actually suggested option E after I shared my woodchuck woe with him. Casey had a Havahart trap, said I could borrow it, brought it by and taught me how to set it. He suggested our bait be fresh lettuce and strawberries. “A tasty summer salad,” I joked, feeling so relieved to have a companion in this process. The plan was that I would check the trap several times a day. If we could trap the fellow (ma’am?), Casey would take him or her for a ride and then open the trapdoor far from my future garden. (Shhh, trapping and transporting a groundhog may not be legal in Massachusetts. But killing one is?!)
I started waking up with numb fingers in my left hand, pain and weakness in my right. Some mornings my right hand was so weak; I couldn’t unscrew the lid of my juice extractor to get to my green drink. Long story short: I have nerve stuff going on in my left “precision” hand and a very sore, arthritic, (oy) thumb joint in the right, my “strength” hand– distinctions and diagnoses I have learned since starting physical therapy.
So the weeds are reclaiming my garden again this season.
But I am not defeated.
I will not be harvesting the fresh vegetables I could practically taste in my imagination, but I am harvesting fruits of kindness I might not have tasted otherwise.
Casey, almost 60, is the first of these sweet gifts.
Early this morning I placed an SOS (Save Our Skunk) that was also a GROSS (Get Rid of Skunk Soon!) call to Casey. He wasn’t home so I left a message, thinking it might be ours before he would get it. Twenty minutes later, Casey pulled up in his red pickup. A broad smile on his face and blue tarp in hand, he started walking slowly, unfazed, towards the scene of the action. I hung back as he approached the trap, listening him to speak reassuringly to the mound of white fluff that, until today, I had only considered a threatening, unlikeable creature. The animal was reportedly napping, around him the evidence he’d been digging frantically to free himself. Casey propped the door open. Skunk did not leave.
“Just let me nap.” Casey said with a chuckle. “If he’d been a raccoon, you would have seen him shoot out of there. Don’t worry, he’ll leave tonight if he doesn’t wake up sooner.” Casey got up off his knees, beckoning me closer. When I asked him why he wasn’t worried about getting sprayed, he explained that there’s some warning first. The skunk would have been acting agitated. But clearly he wasn’t.
Before Casey left, we positioned a rock at the mouth of the groundhog’s tunnel beneath my pantry to confirm the critter’s presence or absence. In two weeks, neither a delectable salad of strawberries and lettuce nor a paste of peanut butter and oats had baited him. We made a plan for me to call Casey in the morning after Skunk would likely have vacated and Woodchuck might have inadvertently revealed himself.
I told Casey he was my hero.
What I did not think to say then, but can taste now (breakfasting on gratitude), is that I am being given not only needed support, but also Casey’s generous good-spiritedness.
In addition, as I relinquish the harvest of cherry tomatoes sweet as candy, summer squash that tastes like sunshine, and the glee of discovering a hidden melon swelling on its vine beneath a broad leaf umbrella, I know there are other immeasurable delights I am harvesting.
I am being nurtured by my soft-spoken physical therapist Mary, who is beginning to fathom the healer she is beyond the clinician she was trained to be. I am receiving the refined skill, intuition and love of my chiropractor Linda, a passionate, petite and muscular angel with an indelible New York accent and hugs that align spines. I have met Jen, who dips my hands in wax twice a week and, with compassion, educates and challenges me to be more mindful of my hands, of how they serve me and how I can serve them. And there’s Jeff, the embodiment of neighborliness in an age where too busy is the new everything.
Being thwarted has led me down paths I would not have taken, to rendezvous with souls I might not otherwise have rendezvoused with. I have given up certain plans to embrace others. I am choosing to witness, to feel gratitude, appreciation, even curiosity, rather than to choose regret, self-blame or any of the other bummer feelings I might have entertained in the past, whole parties of them. It’s more fun this way. Much. I get to lift my gaze and view the garden of my life–beyond a small patch of weeds, doing what weeds do. I get to be a garden, cultivated by love.
A CONTEMPLATION (and for those who might like to write into this) A WRITING SPARK:
Recall a time you felt thwarted
1. To prevent the occurrence, realization, or attainment of:
2. To oppose and defeat the efforts, plans, or ambitions of.
Synonyms: disappointed, discomfited, foiled, frustrated, defeated, unsuccessful, having failed or having an unfavorable outcome
When did you feel thwarted? Might be you thwarted yourself or felt thwarted by circumstances, your body, age, an individual, your mind or emotions… Could be a “big” deal or it might be a seemingly “small” deal. Long ago or happening now…
What’s the harvest you received (are receiving) instead?
What paths opened up before you, perhaps other than the ones you thought you would walk? Opportunities, lessons, surprises, even delights?
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