I haven’t posted in about a week, mostly because any spare time I’ve had has been spent up at the garden with my family, and as of today we are completely planted and awaiting growth! It has been an unusually warm spring in the Twin Cities as we have had an entire month of 60+ degree weather with overnight lows consistently in the 40’s. There is still a slight risk of a frost, but if nature is going to offer us a longer growing season we’d be fools not to take it.
All this to say, I have decided to try a bit of theme-posting, and since gardening is the deed of the day, I am going to devote several posts to the topic. Thus, over the next several days I’ll share a series of reflections on why, in just two years of marriage, Caitlyn and my thumbs have turned an earthy green.
Why We Garden, Part 1: The Sun and the Seasons
Two months ago 18 inches of snow smothered the earth outside our apartment, layers of ice and crust and powder collecting since early December, forcing the land into unconsciousness through the steel-dark months of winter. Today we spread compost over freshly planted seeds and then watched as the sprinkler twisted back and forth across our little plot of land, soaking our precocious strawberries and turning our soil into a squishy mess beneath the warm April sun. Anyone who lives in a place with distinct seasons can appreciate these transitions, but gardening serves to heighten the anticipation and satisfaction carried along by each of the earth’s wild moods.
My brother-in-law is from southern California and sees no problem with “75 and sunny” day after day (Forgive me, Daryl, for using you as a foil. I’ve watched enough idyllic snowstorms with you in the Belcher living room to know you appreciate some variety in the weather.) He, like many from such climates, asks, “Who would ever want to live anywhere different?” The answer is, of course, “Me!” I don’t want to live where the weather never changes and the land always wears the same outfit and I don’t need seven kinds of jackets and three types of boots. I want winter to be deep and treacherous, spring to be sloppy and sweet, summer to be so hot you have to swim ten feet down to find the cool water, and autumn to be serious and kind, full of apples and orange leaves. I want the seasons.
I’ve always thought the seasons bear witness to something old and wise — like a great tradition passed along from giant oaks to little saplings pushing their way through piles of leaves. Anyone who has spent any significant time in the upper Midwest knows that we are at the mercy of a force far heftier than we can really handle. Toys left in the yard in late
Grandma's flooded backyard
November can disappear overnight and not be found until after Easter, next to that rake and those gloves that never made it back to the shed; and about the time we can finally see the grass we have to go fill sandbags at the local high school or help Grandma hook up her water pump because the rivers have overeaten again.
So, as the opening paragraph suggests, gardening is one of those things that calls attention to the seasons. After winter has run its course and the land can breath once more, we get to start arguing about the best mix of lettuce and if the tomatoes will do better next to the peppers or the garlic. We watch the weather as the overnight lows gradually climb out of the twenties and we wait for the day that the frost goes out from the ground and the earth can start really drinking once more, like someone with an old, bad habit. And then, when the excitement of planting, weeding, and watering has worn off, those first little lumps of color start forming beneath the leaves and we are once again inspired by the prospect of cherry tomatoes so sweet you can eat them like M&Ms.
I’ve always appreciated the seasons, enjoying each one for its different activities and fascinations, but with gardening it’s different. The weather and the land aren’t just things to be entertained by but things to listen and respond to — our ability to eat a nice homemade salad on the porch in August depends on it. And our passage through time isn’t determined by the numbers on the calendar but by the size and color of the fruit and the threat of a first frost. I remember last year my summer didn’t end with the beginning of classes or a Labor Day barbecue, but with the numbness of my fingers as I pulled our carrots from the ground on a chili September night. I filled the bucket with carrots covered in dark frigid mud, and then, because the water at the garden faucet had already been shut off for the year, I lugged them into my apartment and knelt beside the bathtub to rinse our last harvest of the year. I waved goodbye to summer with sore knees and cold hands, and summer bid me adieu with a bowl of blaze-orange carrots.
I get frustrated when I hear people in Minnesota complain about the horrible winters and mucky springs. I think if you can’t enjoy each season for what it has to offer then that’s your fault and not the weather’s. Admittedly, I used to enjoy winter far more than spring and I loathed the day the piles of snow turned to lumps of dirt and ice, but gardening has served to fill that gap between winter’s furious excitement and summer’s easy satisfaction. I now look forward to those muddy months and embrace the early stages of planning and preparation necessary for a juicy, delicious harvest. And as we stand out in the April sun while water splashes across our burgeoning soil, the ice and crust that held us captive just months previous seems easily forgivable.
So if you too live in a place with surly seasons and haven’t quite figured out how to enjoy yourself, consider gardening.