2/17/10

hands in the dirt

 
I've been thinking about our garden lately. Last fall, on our final day before the end of the season, I planted eight rows of garlic and shallot bulbs. Now, with two or more feet of snow packed against the dirt, the day we'll pull them up feels pretty far away.

Last weekend Joe went down to the basement to get some potatoes left over from last fall. We thought we'd stored them in a dark and dry enough spot, but when he pulled the paper bag from its hiding place, we found all but a handful had sprouted. Useless. It wasn't just that, but a combination of things, including lack of time and the fact the garden is a 20-minute drive from our house, that inspired Joe to raise the question of not gardening this year. It was his idea in the first place, but I'm the one who's fallen in love with the process. Joe loves the results, and the theory behind learning to grow your own food, but he sees it mostly as an enjoyable chore.

Last winter I might've agreed -- we'd had the garden for less than a season, and it was hard work on a very short learning curve. But last weekend, it wasn't up for discussion. I can't wait to have the house overflowing with vegetables in their bulging reds and shiny greens and the way the kitchen smells like fresh, wet dirt after bringing in the first big bag of tomatoes or lettuce or corn. I'm starting to know what I'm doing. 

Last spring, this was our garden plan:

 
This year I want to do things differently. I want to grow fewer things and space them more appropriately; I want to learn a new way of preserving what we grow. I want to learn more about composting, which we do, but certainly not as well as we could. 

The past two years, we were lucky to get seeds in the ground to grow, and we moved blindly from sprout to table, no safety net of prior experience to guide our way. I never thought I'd get excited over seed catalogs. 

Now here we are, moving an inch or two away from being true beginners, toward a slightly more certain center. And when I look outside my window and see a frozen lake and a dull gray sky, nothing makes me happier to imagine than green fields at mid-day and hot sun on your neck and an ache in your muscles that says you've done something good and real.

2/11/10

happy 2010

It's been a while. Longer, in fact, than what honestly might qualify as "a while." In blog-time, it's been eons.

But I've been busy. There was juggling two jobs, quitting them both, and starting a new one. There were several bouts of out-of-town company, nursing a sick dog, and helping a once-out-of-town friend get settled here in Madison. There were Thanksgiving travels and baby showers and recommitting to our old routine of regularly going to the Y. There was the month of December -- including Christmas and New Year's -- spent in South Africa.

Then there was readjusting to the return home. I landed at Chicago O'Hare wearing shorts and a t-shirt; the ground was carpeted with two feet of snow. As I got back into the swing of things -- buying a much-needed winter coat; sifting through mountains of email; reacquainting myself with the electric coffee maker -- the daily rituals of home and work suddenly seemed rote and dull, in comparison to the shining, bursting wave of experience that defined my brief time abroad.

Before I left for my trip, I set up a blog, with the intention of linking it here and using it as the repository for travel-inspired musing. I didn't post once. Part of the time, it was because electricity outages or downed Internet connections or being in a rondavel in the middle of nowhere kept me from going online. But mostly, it was because I felt absolutely no need to share my experiences with anyone outside of the people who were, in real life, sharing those experiences with me.

I know myself well enough to know when I've skirted close to accidentally believing, "I blog, therefore I am." After all, I am a writer. It's practically part of my cellular makeup to believe something is only as valuable as how well it's documented. There were moments in South Africa when I was disappointed I couldn't capture in real time all I was seeing and doing, so friends and family could travel vicariously alongside me. But a deeper, larger part of that disappointment came from the worry that without writing about them in a way that was publicly and immediately consumable, those experiences -- my experiences -- would somehow become more fleeting and less significant, something that could be put away, set aside, forgotten.

So really, it was about me, and my own fears.

And with that realization, the pressure evaporated. I traded my traveling companion's sleek MacBook for the solid, hard-bound journal a good friend gave me the day before I left. I was my only audience, the keeper of stories for the sake of memory, with no obligation to enlighten or entertain. A month without the ephemeral highs of Facebook-induced uber-sharing, and I remembered what it meant to experience for experience's sake the real things in real life that bring joy, challenge and provocation.

"Writing this down is enough," I wrote, from the deck of a stifling hot chalet in Botswana, overlooking the Limpopo River. "I don't miss Facebook or email or my iPhone. Actually, I want to chuck my phone in the river, or at least trade it in for a land line. I don't need the world to move so fast. I would rather experience and appreciate the small slice of the world in front of me -- the parts I can see and touch and breathe in -- than attempt (and fail) to focus on a thousand things at once. 24-hour news and Twitter feeds and Sudoku apps don't make life better or easier or more content. They just make life more cluttered."

When I got home, I wasn't sure I wanted to blog again. I contemplated getting rid of my Flickr account, ditching the iPhone, and not replacing the recently departed laptop, to which I'd developed an increasingly unhealthy attachment. Imagine life without Facebook or that damned new Google Buzz. Imagine all the extra time we'd have to think or talk or hell, just be.