It’s not a perfect trait for an editor. Much of my life I spend trying to rein myself in, accomplish the things I wrote in my day planner, finish the column that was due three days ago, check the voicemail messages that have filled my voicemail box, but first: a cup of coffee. Anything new in the vending machine? Let me run upstairs to see if someone can split a $5. Oh, there’s a package for me at the front desk, a book about heating your house with compost?! Let me read the entire thing right this minute.
The garden is where I can relax, where it’s okay to putter. I’ll go out with basil seeds in my pocket, and then I’ll notice that the strawberries are ripe and go inside for a basket and while I’m inside maybe make some iced tea and on the way back out stop to weed the asparagus patch. The kale may get overgrown, but it doesn’t complain. The broccoli never threatens to sue.
In this A.D.D. way I get enough accomplished that some food eventually emerges from the garden – usually less of what I’d imagined and more of some random and forgotten underdog that outdid the weeds and grew wild. But the long slog jobs, like prepping beds to plant hundreds of squash seeds, sometimes remain stubbornly un-done far into the summer, until they’re not even worth doing anymore and get shelved ‘til next year.
That’s okay. We’re not pioneers here; we can always buy food. But even in the la-la land that is the garden, there comes a point at which a task languishing on the to-do list stops being acceptable. I had started hundreds of seedlings way back in the bleak of February, in every location I could think of that had the requisite sunlight and protection from the cold. I had dutifully watered the puny things every day for months and months, and had obsessively adjusted the cold frames’ covers, letting in more air or less based on how hot it was that day.
It was an impressive array of seedlings I had going, not to mention the quantities of exotic seeds that I’d mail-ordered: blonde cucumbers, scarlet runner beans, Kobocha Squash.
And then all of a sudden it was the end of June, one day before we were leaving on our big summer trip. We’d be gone for two weeks, and most of my seedlings had not yet made it into the ground. And that wasn’t all that needed doing before we left, either. I got home from work on Day T-Minus-One and went out to survey my garden: major weeding required. If I didn’t at least thin the encroaching carpet of grass, I wouldn’t even be able to tell where my beds had been when I got home. But if I spent this evening weeding, I wouldn’t have time to plant. There just weren’t enough daylight hours before the time we had to leave for the airport.
If college taught me one thing, it was to resist the instinct to panic in such situations, and instead, to get a cup of coffee. It had been a long time since I’d pulled an all-nighter, but it’s like riding a bike. No sense in talking about it, or even in mentally tallying all of the things that needed doing. A dash of Kahlua in my coffee, to dull my mind. Just put one foot in front of the other, and do not stop.
By the light of the half-moon, and the occasional flash of faraway heat lightning, I went to town on the hunks of vegetation that had grown up around my broccoli. Quickly I realized that I should have brought gloves. One of the weeds – nettles? – might as well be a miniature cactus. But there was no time to go look for a pair. Easier just to take my shirt off and use it as a sort of mitt. I stripped down to underwear, since my sweat was trickling down my spine, and there was no awake but the fireflies and some glowing bugs in the soil.
Eventually, the mosquitos started to find me, but on I pressed, slapping at my thighs, amped up from caffeine and brim full of the can-do spirit. All night seemed like an eternity!
Now it was 4am. Was that the sun already, making my headlamp dim? Pick up the pace. I started planting squash seeds like an orangutan, if primates did such things: front arm swinging down to dig a furrow, back arm dropping seeds in, patting the soil down, hopping to the next section to do it again. Dig dig, drop drop drop, pat, hop. Dig dig, drop drop drop, pat, hop. Sweat was now cascading down by back, and the chickens that roost outside were stirring. It was daytime, and I hadn’t even started to pack yet, but I had to finish if I wanted butternut squash soup this fall.
Shower. Coffee. Airport. I’m itching like a crackhead, my hands covered in cuts and rashes, the back of my thighs in welts. There was no need to tell anyone about this, I decided. It all sounded insane, and felt right.
I closed my eyes, half listening about how to inflate my life vest, and I saw my strawberries, redder than the Lufthansa stewardess’ lipstick, and I saw my young bean plants, their pointed leaves pressed together and pointed upward, like hands in prayer.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite who now lives on a farm upstate and writes about the rural life.