Friday, April 17, 2009

The Victory Garden

I righted a longstanding wrong today.

See, there was this eyesore that I tried my best to ignore for years. It was a patch of ground next to my basement patio that spanned the distance between the poured concrete and a retaining wall. It wasn't really wide enough to be considered "the yard" and it wasn't narrow enough to be considered a border.

It's been a challenge to try to come up with a plan for this area since we moved into this house. I had visions of putting sod over it, or maybe turning it into a rock garden, but I never got inspired enough to try either one.

Barren and forlorn, it became a catch-all for broken plastic toys, leaves that blew in and never blew out, and a few stray weeds. Anytime I ventured out onto the basement patio to check on the kids playing in the backyard, I simply chose to ignore it altogether.

Somewhere along the way, the ex hatched an ill-conceived plan to create a "compost pile" there. His rationalization was that it would be educational for the kids, I guess, and it was easy to chuck peels, eggshells, Halloween pumpkins, etc. down into it from the deck above it. I do remember stating my objection to it being so close to the house, but I evidently didn't care enough to put my foot down, so one day, a mass of chicken wire was strung around a circle of landscaping block (left over from an ill-conceived attempt at a koi pond, but I'll have to tell THAT story another time), and the compost pile was established. Except, it never really was a compost pile, it was more like a black hole. Clippings and peelings went in, but nothing ever came out. It was never turned, or tended, and it finally withered away when I finally DID put my foot down and stopped any more "contributions" from being flung into it.

So, fast forward to this month.

Our agreement stipulated that I would remain here in the house with the children, and I have. Since the day I have been the sole adult in the house, I have felt this compulsion to scrub, straighten, revamp and polish every surface of this house. Call it cathartic, call it nervous energy, or renewed interest, but, whatever the case, the black hole began to weigh heavy on my mind a couple of weeks ago, and I found myself thinking about it in my spare moments.

At first, I simply wanted to disassemble the chicken wire and stakes. I didn't really have any grander plan than that. But, I sat on that idea for awhile, and slowly slowly, my mind began to imagine other possibilities.

I began to think that maybe I could rearrange those landscape blocks, or maybe I could scatter some kind of grass seed that would grow in a shady place. That seemed manageable, and I figured that I would be able to accomplish that fairly easily on my own.

And again, I sat on that idea for awhile.

Without really noticing it, I began to have grander ideas for that space. I began to daydream alot about walking out on that patio during my lunch break (I work from home, and my office is in the basement), enjoying some tea while I looked over that little spot of ground. I imagined some flowers there, in vibrant colors, and I saw a little swing on the patio. Every time I took a few minutes to consider that spot, I began to imagine a tranquil place.

It took quite awhile for me to actually get up the nerve to step out there and survey the area with a critical eye. Looking at it in the light of day, I was overwhelmed with the seeming enormity of the project, and I nearly gave up before I started. I saw all of the remnants of the compost project, and the fragments of plastic toys long broken and left there to rot, and the neglect that had turned this corner of my world into a wasteland. I finally faced the fact that before the spot had any hope of being beautiful, it would have to be excavated.

Having no idea what I would encounter, I gingerly stepped into the "pit of despair" and began to tug on the first mud-embedded landscape block. It released the wet, boggy earth underneath itself with a sick sucking sound, revealing a writhing mass of pink, juicy worms squirming through a network of tunnels. Revolted, I dropped the block back onto the offending pile and stepped out again, considering my options.

I could walk back in the house, and forget about every vision I had for the little piece of earth, or I could try to fix it.

Steeling myself, I stepped back into the bog and pried the block up again. I dragged it over to the edge of the patio and placed it along the edge, creating the first of a long border. One by one, I dragged muddy, sticky, slimy blocks to the edge, stacking them into a wall that would (hopefully) corral my beautiful flowerbed. I then dug up the chicken wire, and flung it out and I pulled weeds, and began to turn the compacted earth with a shovel.

Much to my surprise, the earth there was dark and loamy, and alive. The worms were doing their good work, digesting and aerating the ground, and the long-ago castoffs that had been flung in had decomposed back to the soil from which they came, leaving behind fertile ground.

I began to feel more hopeful.

Once the blocks were in place and the fertile ground was turned and prepared, I washed the dirt from my hands and made my way to Pikes. It was a wonderland of beautiful living things, and as I slowly pushed my cart down the rows of living beauty, my vision of my flowergarden began to crystallize. Having very little experience with flowergardens, I allowed my eye to guide me toward the things that appealed to me, and I attempted to pick plants that would enjoy my little sometimes shady, sometimes sunny, out-of-the-way, former pile of rot. I was full of giddy energy as I checked out with a cartful of happy color, and bags of potting soil and I packed it all in my car and hurried back home with my treasures.

Planting the spot was a pleasure . . . I dug hole after hole, carefully transplanting tiny azalea bushes, and hosta plants, and pretty purple groundcover into the little plot. I realized I had never spent that amount of time out there, just me and the little plot of land, and I began to recognize it's innate beauty, and the little lizards and catepillars and creatures that had called it home.

I watered the entire plot, mentally welcoming each little plant as I offered it a root-soaking drink. When the last plant was settled comfortably, I stepped back to admire my work. The arrangement of the plants suited me, and I noticed that they all looked very pretty there, if not slightly uncomfortable from being newly planted, like kids in their brand new clothes on the first day of school. I thought to myself that it wouldn't be long before they settled in and took root in their new home, and I felt sure the entire layout would appear more natural in a few days.

As I was picking up all the cast-off plastic pots and sweeping the patio, I thought about the process of creating the flowerbed, and how similar it was to my own transformation. Taking a look at my life in the light of day was the hardest thing I ever did, and acknowledging my own physical and emotional neglect was heartbreaking for me. But, I was just as amazed to see the life that was still possible within me, just like the vibrant soil that existed just below the tangle of wire and broken toys.

Seeing the evolution of my own thought processes has been amazingly cathartic, too. Initially, I was just content to tear away the offending parts of my physical self, but I have been pleasantly surprised that I ultimately dreamed of something better for myself emotionally. And just like my little flowerbed, I had to tear myself down and dig down through issues that I'd prefer to avoid before I could dream of achieving anything better.

I smile when I look at those pretty, nervous little flowers. They seem almost self-conscious in their new surroundings, just like I feel in this new body and this new phase of my own life. I think we both will settle in nicely, and until then, we are just going to enjoy each other, preferably in the quiet of the afternoon with some nice hot tea for me, and a cool drink for them.

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