Here’s the thing. I’m a little worried. I know that there’s a condition called garden fever, and that this craze for growing things can seize all walks of life, be you American or French, man or woman. But I’m concerned that my intense obsession with this garden is a little out of control. I mean, I’m really beginning to suspect that growing vegetables is bad for my mental health. It could have something to do with the fact that the only other member of my family who loves growing vegetables as much as I do is my uncle Crazy-Face (Christian name, no joke), who wants to sue me for various ultra-logical reasons, and who also happened to train vultures for the CIA in preparation for the Y2K crisis, when they would surely call on him and his vultures to locate all the corpses strewn across the country.
You can see why closely resembling such a member of one’s family can make a person a little nervous.
But then I think, okay, I’ve also got a (non-blood-related, more’s the pity) aunt who’s a botanist and a lovely person, so there’s that. And just because some very special snowflake shares your love for something doesn’t make it not worth doing. Understanding this conundrum is a lot like seeing a drunk person wearing your favorite coat, but a gal’s got to keep reading novels and growing Jerusalem artichokes, doesn’t she?
So it’s May. The fourteenth, in fact. Which is an awkward time to start writing about gardening, since we’re halfway into the swing of things, but much like (insert horticultural analogy here) you learn that (insert piece of wisdom about control and nature and all things being one connected life force here).
The most important part of this time period, however, is that in two days it is my birthday.
I will be thirty-two, and in the garden I have growing nine tomatoes, two sunchokes, one peanut plant, six basil, more lettuce than anybody really wants if we’re being honest here especially since there is already an entire head of somebody else’s lettuce currently rotting in my refrigerator, capucines, beets, chard, bourrache, comfrey, sweet potatoes, lots of nettles, weeds of all kinds, a raspberry plant, several diseased strawberries, a lot of peas, over three hundred onions because why buy a bag of two hundred onion starts when you can buy two bags of two hundred onion starts, kale that nobody but me will eat, volunteer potatoes, lazy potatoes, potatoes next to cucumbers that need to move because cucumbers and potatoes apparently hate each other, someone else’s leeks, and more melisse than I can shake a stick at. It’s huge, that plant, and odorous and lovely and very good in a cocktail.
And I worry, and I wonder–why am I so obsessed with gardening? Is it a midlife crisis? Is an unrelenting passion for tomatoes a symptom of late-onset schizophrenia? I mean, I sing to my plants in the morning for christ’s sake. That can’t possibly be a good sign, mental-health-wise.
Another, perhaps more reasonable worry is–why can’t everything else be as easy as gardening? Not that gardening isn’t hard, because it is. But because the hard stuff is easy. You know what I mean?
Writing isn’t like that. The hard stuff, well, it remains hella hard. When disaster strikes, it feels like disaster. Whereas when an entire crop of peas gets eaten by slugs, it feels like disaster but it also feels like Nature taking her fee, you know, your rental payment for time allotted on this earth.
If only other failures felt like that, too. Like paying your dues. But the easiness of gardening isn’t so much about failure as it is about how simple it is, while living in the grips of this plant fever, to get shit done.
In the garden, I work myself to the bone. I mean my bones are literally visible when I finish tidying the rows each day. And this visible osseus matter don’t phase me one bit. I am happy to have toiled, and in fact, the toiling felt like fun.
Part of me really wonders if this is a sign. A note from God telling me to kindly stop all other labors and become a farmer. Other toils, well, they still feel very toily. Does this mean that I should make like a river and change course?
Which brings me back to the original question–is the golden rule to find something you love and get good at it, or is it find something you’re good at and learn to love it? Or is it both?
In other news, today I have decided to plant humongous Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins right on the edge of my plot, the side that borders someone else’s. The vines on a Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin are roughly, oh, fifteen to twenty-five feet long. Give or take a little sprawl.
I fully plan to tutor those happy creepers straight towards the neighbor’s.
Is it evil? Does this amount to passive-aggressive plotting? And could my pumpkin maneuver have anything to do with the fact that the man’s wife is kind of a galomphing, prickly Madame who, in a way that is very American and suspiciously un-French, regards everything she sees as somehow her own property that simply hasn’t been acquired yet?
She was reading Jodi Picoult in English the other day. Some story about a kid with Asperger’s syndrome who’s framed for murder. Every time this woman mumbles, and I ask her to please repeat herself, she switches to bad English.
“Maybe we talk your lahnuuuhage,” she says, flipping her hair over one shoulder. “You understand better me now.”
I understand better that I want to kill her, yep, sure enough do.
“It his about retarded child,” she says, pointing to the book. “You would like it.”
I nod. Full comprehension has been had. “Do you want a extra strawberry plant?” I ask in French. I hold out one of my runners that I just unearthed from pure peevishness.
“Hit his very hinteresting,” she continues, handing her long-suffering kid the strawberry plant. The kid seems happy, but we all know that this emotion will be short-lived. “Sometimes I find myself wonder, how am I feel if my retarded child kill a man?”
“I’ve got some seeds with me, if you want to look through them. You can take whatever you want.”
“Hi like to read hin Hinglish,” she says. “Can you read hin French, yet?”
“No,” I say, “I am merely capable of speaking the language fluently, but when it comes to putting my eyes to paper, I find that I am about as mentally dexterous as a legless dog with a yeast infection.”
This isn’t what I said. Unfortunately. My grasp of the French language prohibits me from all mention of legless dogs suffering from yeast infections. Un chien sans jambe qui souffre d’un mycose, while literally correct, just isn’t funny. It is simply confusing. I once made a similar mistake with a metaphor about unicorns and unfortunately, that slip-up was on live radio.
Anyhow, while the pen is mightier than the sword, the pumpkin is much greater than the legless dog with a yeast infection.
Obviously, I am going completely crazy. And I don’t think it has a damn thing to do with vegetables.