It’s around this time of year, the end of fall harvest season, that I start thinking about next year’s garden.
Every year, however, I develop gardener’s amnesia. I have no memory whatsoever of my propensity for planting everything way too close so harvesting anything requires advanced yoga skills and sage-like patience, neither of which I have. I visualize myself planting miniscule basil seeds and potted vegetable starts methodically, in neat, artful groupings and rows. I’ve forgotten almost completely about the slugs, snails, and alien-like insects. I fail to consider the persistent, prolific weeds.
But it’s comforting to imagine the perfection of next year’s garden and it feeds something that continues to brew in me, no matter how minimal my garden’s bounty proves to be. It’s an idea of self-reliance. No … I’m not sure that’s what to call it. It’s not like our little backyard could feed anyone for a full month, never mind a year.
Maybe I mean provident. I’m trying to be provident: wisely preparing for the future, creating that feeling of comfort, security, and abundance that comes with the smell of pumpkin pie baking or garlic and onion sizzling.
I don’t yet know what it takes to achieve this vague, persistent feeling, but I suspect it requires a dialed-down life of simple but lasting pleasure, and to achieve that there are things I must let go that I prefer to cling to. I can’t yet name those things, but here’s something that rang true:
My blog friend told me to read A Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. It was an adventurous, dramatic, humorous, occasionally tear-jerking read about a young couple starting a farm dependent on draft horses (no tractors) that feeds 200 people everything they need year round (including sweetener (maple syrup) and grains, but not coffee or tea).
Early on, Kimball frets about debt and financial insecurity, which I identify with, dredging up images from Victorian literature about poor houses and bereft women left with nowhere but the street. Kimball’s husband, however, sees it entirely differently:
“In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right.”
Satisfaction, like feeling provident, like you’ve put in a good day of useful work and can count the jars of jam or rows of carrots or stacks of clean dishes.
Kimball’s husband reminded me of a passage in Julia Child Rules where Karbo discerns from Julia’s life that hard work is what leads to lasting happiness:
“Throwing ourselves into hard work can be deeply gratifying, and mastering a skill is a satisfaction in and of itself, but the reality of this has largely fallen out of favor.” We believe “… happiness is to be found in outward appreciation and approval, not inner dedication.”
Inner dedication. Okay, we might be getting closer to what I seek, some sort of mix of outer achievement (rows of carrots) with inner dedication (seeing those carrots through to the end of their impossibly slow growth cycle?).
Later in Kimball’s memoir, she has a similar realization:
“I had always been attracted to the empty, sparkly grab bag of instant gratification, and I was beginning to learn something about the peace you can find inside an infinite challenge.”
Yes! Peace inside infinite challenge. Wait, why do I say yes? It drives me crazy that once a batch of essays is graded or a room dusted, the next batch of essays comes in or two days later a fine layer of dust dulls the briefly glossy surfaces. Aren’t those examples of “infinite challenge”? Or, maybe they’re just eternal tasks more than infinite challenges.
And yet, that vague feeling of providence resonates when I read this passage. You could say my yoga practice provides “infinite challenge” since I have no natural talent and even the basic poses still challenge me after 10 years of practice, but I can’t say I’ve found peace in this. Also, it’s not provident, yoga practice is not creating abundance. …
That’s it! Creating abundance.
Maybe that’s what draws me to the quiet spaces of my backyard garden and the kitchen and away from louder, busier places offering more obvious signs of success.
* While I was drafting this post, I saw that my friend posted this on her Facebook page:
Last night I ate my entire 2013 potato crop. I am so not ready for the apocalypse. Exactly.