Summer used to be my least favorite season – so hot and involving the least soothing clothing of the closet. No more sweaters to turtle down into, hide out in. No more scarves to curl around my neck in broad woolen loops protecting my breath. No more hats providing the perfect excuse for messy hair.
But about four or five years ago, that all changed. Suddenly, the heat of the sun became transformative instead of stifling. Tearing off layers to get down to the barest of minimums and going out into the yard to work in the dirt, tugging at plants, examining leaves, petals, stems for signs of health, sickness, pets, imminent snacks – all these things became vital. Energizing. A full system’s snap-to.
Some of this change had to do with buying a house and having an outside of my own to play in at last. We moved in at the end of May 2005, and a week later, I took my first toddling steps into the world of gardening by planting peas. I still remember the jolt – zing! – the day I went outside and found there were actual peas on my peas. It had happened all of a sudden, it seemed to me. One day, there was nothing but plant, the next, fully-grown food!
I dug into the twisting reels of vine, turned one of the pods gently until it came off in my hand, plucked its string, and pulled it open. Inside were three perfectly round green balls, so sweet and crunchy, so flawless. It was the first living thing I had ever created and I had somehow, some magically how, created it masterfully.
I was as a GOD.
But it wasn’t just the divine feeling of creation that continued to entice me into the yard each bright evening after work. The more I let summer’s heat sink down into my skin and bones, flooding gently over every fibromyalgic part like spilled warm milk, the more the constant ringing of my skin seemed to quiet, lulled by an ultraviolet hug into a gentle snore. Sometimes I find myself having to fight the urge to race out naked into the hot sun, neighbors be damned; to expose all flesh to rays, to make every inch go quiet.
I don’t, though. And you know why?
Because that would be crazy.
Last summer, however, I was so consumed by the misfires of my head and heart that I grew nothing. All the garden tools remained cleanly untouched in the shed, the beds and pots empty. I threw a few flowers into the ground out front – that much, at least, seemed mandatory (let’s not arouse suspicions, now) – but just going out to water them periodically felt like a torturous waste of time. Who cares about flowers when there’s so much else? So much more important elseness? I spent a lot of time outside that summer, but almost all of it was really spent in. Inward, anyway. No deepening warmth, no soft, sustained snore – my heat that year was more a brutal, tearing fire, with me in constant struggle to find its source and put it out.
This summer, I’ve been back in the yard again, almost obsessively, weeding, growing, nibbling, examining. I spent two hours in July hand-washing the ailing leaves of a squash infested with slime-trailing pests. Grow, grow, grow, please. I need this. I need it. Please. Just. Grow.
There’s been little sun this year, however, little warmth, little sleep. And it has not escaped me that my hours outside have been more about avoiding the inside than anything else – a complete reversal, thinking back, and I can’t tell if that counts as progress or not.
Yet perhaps all change can represent net forward movement in some way, even if it takes periodic loops of retreat. It’s true the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but, at the risk of going all Robert Frost on your asses, maybe it’s the road less traveled by – the unkempt, weed-overrun, gravelly one you stumble across when you’ve been flailing around in the woods, panicked and disoriented, for what feels like a lifetime – maybe that’s the road that gets you to Point B, if not as quickly, then at least with more self-satisfaction.
I was lost. And then a road was found. Maybe that really does make all the difference.
In any case, the flowers don’t seem to notice the change, looping travels and busted compasses or not. Bright, blooming, and radiantly cheerful, they continue on in an endless cycle of birth, growth, wilt, and renewal.
And yesterday: my first ripe tomato.
Meg Wood doesn’t know the meaning of the word “Miracle-Gro.” You can read her sillier work at her two web sites: http://megwood.com and http://megwood.wordpress.com.