We spent a week traveling with the little pop-up camper, visiting relatives near DC and in Wilmington, NC — museums and monuments, beaches and fun. It made good memories for the kids, and vacation from an endless list of projects for Jeff and I.
Now we are home, and it’s like picking up a book when you’ve lost your page. I am out of synch with my cycle of beginnings and endings: which projects half started, done, ready to start again? Pots made to bisque, bisqued to glaze? Last column submitted, next one due? Bills to mail, bees to tend, raspberries to pick, jam to make. All those repetitive tasks that are completed and restarted: sourdough starter, family house clean, garbage out, what day is it? Scout meetings, guild classes, kefir and kombucha batches fermented and recultured. I hardly know where to begin or where I left off.
Usually I make optimistic, coffee-inspired morning TTD lists, but it felt really good to vacation away from the constant drive to Get Something Done… so while I jotted a few reminders on my chalkboard-painted kitchen cupboards today about bills and pressing issues, I let myself wander an erratic path, easing back up to speed and letting my inner ADD kid out to play.
I slept late, and drank my coffee slowly with a cat in my lap. I picked sweet pea blooms, and the last of the gooseberries. I caught up on facebook scrabble games. I rode my bike with Jeff to the produce market to buy asparagus, redskin potatoes and those marvelously cheap bing cherries. I halfheartedly loaded a kiln, wandered off and did a little unpacking, worked on making top bars for my stoneware hive.
After dinner, when it was cool, I went out to stand in my veggie garden. It’s a lovely garden, really… despite a certain, er, freeform approach. My mid-March seed catalog optimism means plastic keg cups still stand in random corners of the garden, holding withered stems of seedling I simply had no room to plant. Names markered on the cups identify the corpses: Ruby chard. Georgia collard. Bloody butcher tomato.
A lot got planted, though. Snow peas and green beans are climbing the sides of the garden gate, and four kinds of melon are scaling the weathered pickets of the fence, offering up blossoms to the bees. The tomatoes are ripening in organized rows; much of the garden looks like it should, tidy with rolled fabric mulch under shredded cypress.
Then there’s the rest of the garden. An arched metal framework stands in one corner. My hoop-house offered the first greens of the season by March, but is now lost to a green, growing chaos: lettuce bolted and flowering, weedy wild cucumber climbing arched rib poles, pig weed, lambsquarters and blue eyed grass sprouting out of cold frames, and a few tomatoes fighting last year’s six foot, blooming leek plants for sunlight. In a bed nearby, the basil and garlic had to make room for all the surprise potato plants — I apparently missed quite a few spuds when I dug the bed’s crop last fall. And the red raspberries sent runners under the fence along the back.
I once chastized myself for such vegetable anarchies. I used to chart my garden to scale on graph paper, and carried a notebook of which crop should be rotated where, soil tests, succession planting dates, interplanting compatibilites and plants-per-square-foot gardening rules. Every year I meant to have the perfect, organized garden, and then every September I looked out over the snarl of sprawling pumpkin vines, weedy patches and forgotten dates, and felt like I had failed.
Failed? How could I have overlooked fat pumpkins, red tomatoes, burgeoning eggplant hiding between the weeds? That’s not failure, it’s nature. It’s a treasure hunt, with the last squash often being outed by the first hard frost.
Little by little it sinks in that my life will never march in lock step with a clock or a list, and that’s OK.
I planned our homeschool year every fall, and we’d start out great with art museum day, history day and the timeline down our hall, microscope thursdays and math-games on fridays… but then something would happen, something golden, and we’d let it be. Tadpoles would hatch, or Connor would decide to train his pigeons to come to a whistle; we’d get lost in a library for all day, or drive to the country after an unexpected call to watch lambs being born. Tyler would decide he needed to learn the hobbit shire song on the sax, or we’d go to the farmers market and then make pickles together. Somehow it all got done, and they aced their exams and lived happily ever after-so-far… but I learned to let things go, when they went. They always went somewhere interesting.
So when I stood in my garden today and looked at the ten by ten patch of dirt I had turned but never planted, I didn’t get discouraged. In fact, looking closely at the well watered weeds, I found four small volunteer tomato plants, three little eggplants, a dill and two chamomiles. I transplanted them to the margins, because I like surprises, and I like to encourage natural selection in favor of a little hardy spunk. (My wild captured bees may not be as organized or productive as my purchased ones with the hand selected queen, but they are mean as hell and build comb with speed and flair — ya gotta respect that.)
So the “volunteers” have been replanted, the weeds turned under to enrich the soil one shovelful at a time, and tomorrow I will dig into my seed stash and find spinach for cool fall days, salad crops, carrots to winter over. I am finding my place again in the cycle of projects begun and ended and begun again. July in Ohio is the rich season where the smallest work brings harvest. Mulberries shaken into an old bedsheet make rich purple pies. Pots lifted warm from the kiln and line shelves, round and shiny as fat berries. Lettuce gathered into a bowl is lunch, with yellow squash, cherry tomatoes and chives. Bees distill the clover blossoms in my lawn into jars of amber honey, and the chickens graze the same clover to give me four eggs a day: two big brown ones, two tiny white ones.
With such open-handed generosity, and treasures at every turn, even my winding, circuitous path takes me where I need to go. I can move from one thing to the next, clay to garden to computer to child, kitchen to guild, bed to studio — like my bees, sampling this and then that, and still getting the job done by day’s end.
So my day is like my garden, organized in spots, gone to weed in others. Those fertile margins where nothing has been decided, the free space where I can wait and see what happens, are the comfort, inspiration and unpredictability I need –as an artist, a mom, a highly distractable human, a woman, a worker.
So if I can look at a half-planned garden without sighing over how it was supposed to be, maybe I can learn to look back on a day without being disappointed about stuff I didn’t get done. I come from a long line of “good workers”, but maybe in days spent racing the things-to-do list, trying to meet to some improbable goal, I am missing the small gifts: the volunteer chamomile to nurture for autumn tea, the puddle full of tadpoles that will fill a mason jar and an afternoon.
My friend once sent me a proverb:
“Hop fast”, said the rabbit.
“Walk slow”, said the tortoise.
“Pace yourself”, said the cheetah. “It’s a long run.”
I want to paint that on my studio wall. Tomorrow. Or maybe the next day…