Wednesday, March 17, 2010

10 Bags of Bliss

I am a woman who is very easily entertained these days.  As I blissfully loaded 10 bags of garden soil into our truck recently I realized that at the age of 24 I would not have found joy in that moment.  I probably wouldn't have created that moment.

At that time I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I didn't even give my brown thumb an opportunity to prove itself.  I knew it was brown and my house plants agreed.  The high desert around me was lush and colorful in its own way and that was plenty of landscape for me.  I did spend time outside - traipsing through the mountains to cut the winter's wood supply, running in my slippers out to the wood pile so I could keep the woodstove cooking, riding horses on my friend's ranch and sitting in the sun playing my guitar.  Living in Santa Fe, you can't be surrounded by that much natural beauty and not feel connected to it.  Thanks to the Sangre de Cristos, the sky, the smell of pinon and the clarity of the light, being close to nature came easy.  

These days in Austin I am also surrounded by natural beauty, but it is often overpowered by traffic, people, high rises and highways.  I have to make an extra effort to drink in the nectar of life in its many disguises.  Loading all those bags of dirt I know that soon I will be tearing in to them and adding the rich mixture to my gardens and flower beds.  I know that I will inhale its dampness and perhaps hear a redbird trilling on the telephone wire above me; I will notice a worm and wonder if it was a bonus prize in the dirt I just purchased or if he had been napping deep in the soil that I am now ferociously turning; I will feel a shift in the wind and a shower of tough, brown oak leaves will rain down on me.  

Investing in ten bags of dirt is a confirmation that this work that I love is in my future.  I am 54 and it turns out all that talk about menopause ushering in a new way of being and a rearranging of priorities is absolutely true.  The young woman with the brown thumb would be stunned to see the simple pleasures that I now yearn for.  But the little girl of 4 who loved to romp through meadows and lay in piles of hay probably wouldn't be all that surprised.        

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pear Sauce

It's been another week of distractions but I have managed to tend to the garden.  Spring is definitely making herself known this week in Austin and I can feel the vibration of new life all around me.  There is a quickening in my step when I am out and about and a sense of possibility percolating under my recent winter melancholy. 

We have a pear tree that we planted 6 or so years ago - I can't quite remember now.  Last year it bore tons of fruit for the first time and it was not strong enough to support it.  We had to prematurely pick 3 bushels of perfectly good fruit that didn't get to ripen gracefully and went to waste.  The weight of the fruit broke some of the branches, including one of the main ones.  Yesterday we decided to prune it back before the tiny buds that were starting to appear kicked into high growing gear.  Our friend David was here and with Chris's guidance we began selectively trimming long, graceful limbs and creating a tighter, stronger looking foundation for our little tree.  We ended up really going to town and wound up with a large pile of lovely pear branches that are waiting patiently for large brush day.  I was a little worried that we had gone too far and the tree would go into shock and shut down for the rest of the season. 

This afternoon I went out to do some weeding and there were these beautiful, green leaves on the remaining branches.  They were triple the size that they were yesterday, reaching and stretching as if they were in a yoga class.  I couldn't believe how much life seemed to be pumping their way, now that it wasn't being diverted in too many directions.  It's the same with our lettuce crop.  We have a tendency to plant too close together and when we finally pull one to make more room, the remaining adjacent heads explode and expand, thrilled to have the room to strut their stuff.

There's a lot to be said for a judicious use of energy.  Lord knows that I have way too many branches in my life and cram projects and activities too close together.  Perhaps as I start to cut back, prune and choose more carefully I'll find more life blood flowing to what remains.  Maybe I will begin to reach and stretch and bear just the right amount of fruit to be sweetly savored. 

(Coincidentally, we are eating pear sauce this week that Chris made from what he put up last year.  It's great to have a partner who has the forethought to do that.) 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Clearing Clutter

Today was beautiful here in Austin so I was determined to spend some of it outdoors.  We had some accounting to work on for an hour or so before Chris and I went our separate ways and then I was planning to hit the garden.  One task led to another; one discrepancy led to another; one reconciliation led to another.  That's how it happens with me.  Suddenly it was 5:30 and I had been at it all day. 

I checked the handy little natural clock on my iPhone and realized I still had a good hour of sunlight so I changed from the pjs I worked in all day to the overalls that always feel like a delicious indulgence.  Designer duds are not what I crave - it's knowing that all I have to dress for are my weeds. 

And man did I go after them today.  I found a patch so large and official looking just outside the perimeter of the vegetable garden that I thought for a minute perhaps they were stray greens that I should be gratefully and carefully harvesting, not alien intruders I was bent on destroying.  Upon closer examination I determined that they were indeed weeds and I dug the whole patch out and threw them away (pile pictured above).  I can't bring myself to put weeds in the compost so I brown bag them for the city. 

Once I got down on my knees and began to clear the space, I started seeing its potential. By the time my 90 minutes was up, I had cleaned out another area that has been under utilized and gets great sun.  This is where I will plant my blackberry bush next week.  It just feels like the right place for it.  

For me, gardening is the ultimate in not planning.  For a girl who thrives on lists and plans and spreadsheets, I love the feeling of opening the door not having a clue about what I'll do.  I walk around and wait to see what calls to me.  Today it was attacking the army of early spring weeds that rang my bell, which seems like a mundane task but ultimately led to a vision for the summer garden.

I'm a big believer in clearing clutter to allow the space for creativity, whether it's in the office, home, garden or psyche.  I wish it was as easy to clear my mind of its weeds.  Meditation helps, when I do it.  Tears help and I usually have a creative breakthrough after they fall, so I guess that's a form of emotional weeding.  It was certainly true yesterday when financial, health and family concerns caught up with me and I surrendered to a good cry.  While still blubbering I picked up my guitar and wrote a song for the first time in quite awhile.  Today I sang and refined it while I worked (on the weeding, not the accounting).   

So, I guess I should say thanks to the tears and the weeds.        

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Weeds and Bronchitis

Another big gap between blogs. Where have I been, pray tell?  It was interesting to read my last two posts before we left town for the Folk Alliance conference in Memphis.  I was definitely over working, had taken on too much and couldn't figure out how to spend any time in the garden - which usually means I am not taking care of myself either.  As grows the garden, so goes my life.  The whole point of this blog has been to notice that and make an effort towards more nurturing and less self destructing; I got a big technicolor dose of that dynamic in the last couple of weeks. 

I left for Memphis completely exhausted and wishing I could just call the whole thing off.  (Incidentally, I left for The Grammys in the same shape a month earlier.)  I was in dire need of sleep, solitude, simplicity of activity and diet and old fashioned rest and relaxation.  I pushed through the conference, operating on overdrive for four days surrounded by thousands of fellow folkies and feeling worse and worse as the days went on.  I honestly felt like I had been hit by a truck most of the time - aching, tired, coughing and laryngitis.  Alas, by the final morning (after appearing on two panels and ten showcases in four days) two weary wanderers started loading the truck to make it to Litttle Rock in time for Chris to catch a flight to Arizona for a gig with Jerry Jeff Walker.  We had a plan and although I was aching and freezing and unbelievably tired, I was going to rise to it.

First we had to deal with a big old flat tire before we could even leave the parking garage.  We kept the pedal to the medal and got Chris to the airport on time and I took over driving.  In the pouring rain I stopped to get the tire fixed at a Walmart in Arkansas and shivering yet determined I carried on.  I had books on CD to keep me company and road warrior that I am I was sure I could make it home by 1 AM, a reasonable time frame for a working musician.

By Greenville, Texas I had a raging fever and finally surrendered.  A night in a hotel with Theraflu and a hot bath did wonders.  What I noticed was how damn hard it was for me to pull over and stop.  I don't know what or whose voice it is that tells me I'm a wimp for not forging on, but she's there.  My better angels (via my brother and supportive husband and friends) convinced me that stopping was the wise thing to do.  

The last five hours to Austin the next day took some real effort, but I made it and went immediately to the doctor, grocery store and drugstore and finally unloaded a truck full of instruments, suitcases, coolers, conference crap and snacks.  All I could think about was the couch and I was practically salivating I wanted it so bad.  But first I had to drive over my laptop with the truck - just to put a little icing on this cake of a week.  

I wanted to scream and cry but by then I was too happy just to be home.  Meanwhile Chris had received news that his mom needed some extra help in South Dakota, so he went there straight from Arizona and I spent the week nursing bronchitis and getting the rest and solitude I had needed for so long.  Five days of sleeping, eating only soup and salad, resting, relaxing (with coughing and general miserable-ness thrown in) was exactly what my body had been wanting for so many weeks.

This is my pattern.  I push to the point of exhaustion and insomnia which leads to illness so that I can finally crash and burn.  I'm not proud of it, but there it is.  This experiment with the garden is to help me recognize the connections and habits that are so deeply entrenched.  Since I got my strength back in the last couple of days I made it outside again and noticed that huge weeds are appearing all over the place.  I'm talking 2 1/2 feet tall, bristly, ugly things that tower over my carefully chosen plants and flowers.  Once I get out there in the garden it's not that hard to dig those weeds up by the roots and banish them.  I used to wack them down with the edger but they would reappear bigger than ever. 

When I ignore my own needs and don't tend to them, they too are easily overrun by the big uglies -  illness, frustration, depression, hopelessness.  Living on caffeine and melatonin (or worse - Ambien) is the "edger technique" of self care; it doesn't really get to the root of the problem and the symptoms only get worse.  

The solutions are pretty simple and shouldn't be that challenging to create - time for a bath, a walk instead of a meeting, maybe a massage now and then, sitting down while I eat instead of hunkered over the desk, tea with a friend now and then, serving on three fewer committees.  It's not rocket science but sometimes it feels that foreign to me.

The other important thing to remember here is to be forgiving and receptive like my garden.  It always seems thankful for the attention I give it.  Any little tending and it seems to reach up with gratitude and smile towards the sun.  I never hear the plant fairies whispering "you've been bad; what took you so long; we are not going to let these plants respond to your loving attention now as punishment for ignoring them for so long".  They just soak it up and continue to thrive.  

My husband Chris and I went on an afternoon movie date today, to give ourselves some much needed time together and cinematic inspiration.  I didn't do any weeding in the garden, but I yanked some big ones out of my heart with just those few hours in a dark theater.  When I came out I smiled towards the sun with gratitude.