I'm not really sure why I thought I'd be able to maintain my vegetable garden last spring, given that, at the time I started my seeds indoors, I was already several months pregnant. And this was my 87th time being pregnant, so I can't even claim that I thought I'd have the energy to keep up with all the work that goes into gardening. Even if I didn't live in a state with 106-degree temperatures all summer long, I've at least been knocked up enough times to know that a) as the months progress, you only get pregnant-er, b) gardening requires a lot of bending over (not in the good way), and c) pregnant people should not excessively bend over. I mean, technically you can, it's just usually not a very good idea if you want to avoid excruciating back spasms.
Yet I planted my garden faithfully. I amended my soil with aerating solids and fertilizers. I pulled weeds. I toiled over our notorious Texas red dirt, having learned in previous years that our soil here is typically too rich in clay to allow for successful vegetable gardening. And I truly believed that, come summer, I would enjoy the fresh produce that I had planned and dug and labored for. How nice it will be, I thought, to cradle my newborn babe while I slice my freshly-picked, sun-ripened tomatoes. I pictured myself on my patio at eight months pregnant, hand on my back, using a galvanized aluminum watering can to gingerly sprinkle my potted lavender with just enough moisture to keep it happy. My toddler would be digging around in the root vegetable patch, while my dog smiled at me from the lettuce beds. I can totally handle this, I lied to myself, as I browsed straw sunhats on Amazon. Maybe I should get maternity overalls.
I think we all know how this turned out.
Look, I could lie to you guys and say that this was totally COVID's fault for making it difficult to obtain the mulch, fertilizers, and tomato cages I needed for successful gardening in Texas, but who are we kidding, here? (I mean– technically, those things did contribute to the obliteration of my gardens. The home improvement stores couldn't figure out curbside pickup those first few months. Or something.)
What actually happened was my third trimester.
And then, a baby.
And sleep deprivation.
Postpartum depression and anxiety. Teaching our toddler what life with a newborn means. Learning how to parent four school-aged kids who are suddenly attending fully-remote school, and wondering if we're making the right choices every single day. A busted air-conditioning system in the middle of a skillet-hot Texas summer, and the parts won't be available for five more days; do you guys have somewhere else you can stay? A cat who is suddenly allergic to everything (maybe even the dog?) and needs meds twice daily now. A global pandemic that has wiped out any hope of support, because we wanted to keep our loved ones safe. Decisions, stress, tears, stress, anxiety, stress, insomnia, stress– on and on and on, this last year has just continued to take and take and take from us, over and over.
And, sure, we've remained healthy. We took the financial hits and made it work. Everyone's still in one piece, and plenty of people are doing much, much worse.
But, my garden?
It's dead. Soooo dead. Cremated, practically, because it's Texas.
The truth is, I gave up, and then gave up some more. I let everything go, and grow, and die, and just kept my blinds closed so I wouldn't have to look at it. My dreams of fresh produce were replaced with the hope that someday, we'd be able to go out on a date night again, and as the months dragged by, everything continued to wither into crispy, shriveled wisps of brown and grey everywhere. I silently cursed myself for putting in all that hard work and just abandoning it, and swore to myself that when the time was right, I would get out there, pull up the dead stuff, and try to start over.
That time, the "right" time, seems like it's not going to happen for awhile. So, my backyard is a complete mess now.
But because it's Texas, the sub-zero temperatures from last week's Snowmageddon have acquiesced to sunny, high-70s afternoons. Everything is just God-awful for everyone here right now, and it's still solid brown ugly everywhere you look, but for the first time in ages, it just feels pretty outside.
So, this morning, I ingested enough coffee to feel almost human again, gathered up the two littlest girls and some trash bags, and trekked into the backyard to work on getting things cleaned up.
I rummaged around my potting bench, organizing the supplies that had been sitting, untouched, for the last year. As the dog rolled around in the dead turnips, I puttered around the yard, picking up little pieces of trash and pulling out large, dead weeds. Shame started to seep into my throat, and my ears burned hot while I chastised myself for letting it get this bad. I should have started working on this months ago, I thought. Really, I shouldn't even have let it get like this in the first place.
I huffed and yanked out some dead corn stalks, and threw them into the compost heap. Oh, right, I thought. My compost heap. I forgot about that. Which is easy to do, of course, because compost is really just a more mindful version of taking the trash out, and I do not usually devote that much of my precious (limited) brain space to garbage. Unless it's on television.
If you're not familiar with composting, there's really not much to it– you just use the process of natural decay to break down waste, using alternating layers of "green" matter (food scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds) and "brown" matter (manure, dead leaves, dried branches). The idea is that by purposefully disposing of materials you would likely get rid of anyway, you can create a nutrient-dense fertilizer for your gardens that makes up for the things your soil is probably missing. Some people get all snotty and weird about compost, like it's some kind of couture dirt multivitamin. But, let's be honest– we're ultimately just talking about a layered mound of dead grass, old pizza crusts, and chicken shit. There's not a lot to get excited about.
So, my compost heap was just one of the many things I had neglected this year, and as I cleaned up my yard, I made it a point to chuck as much dead stuff onto the pile as possible. The crunchy brush from the marigolds. Some dried, sad-looking potted cactuses that couldn't survive the freeze. A soggy, half-empty bag of vermiculite I had left out in the rain since April. I got into a good rhythm, tugging on the brittle stalks of dead plants, and heaving handfuls of brown onto the pile.
Yank, toss. Yank, toss. Yank, toss.
And I noticed, as I pulled out what had gone bad, that in the places those plants had died, the soil beneath them was still moist. Not just moist, but thriving. That's weird, I thought. I haven't watered here in ages. I continued to pluck, and, sure enough- the soil just kept looking better and better, everywhere I looked. Every plant I had allowed to die and decay in place was hiding a deep, rich pocket of soil that I had never found naturally in my yard before. I began gleefully prying up the dead sunflowers, the tomato plants, the cucumber vines, and delighted in each tiny circle of dark, beautiful soil that had developed underneath. No longer was I surrounded by the dense, clay-laden muck that has previously ruined my fantasies about fresh zucchini. My yard, despite a year of utter neglect, was now full of happy, healthy soil that would be much better for growing produce when the time comes.
And, with every handful of scraps, my compost heap grew. It got wider, and deeper, layer by layer, until the hill I had forgotten about was as tall as my shoulders. I need to add some green soon, I thought, smiling as I chucked another clump of roots towards the pile. But at least this will all turn into something good now.
Maybe that's what we need to hold onto, right now, as the year of pandemic fatigue weighs so heavily on everyone. We all feel it-- exhaustion, stress, and seemingly endless uncertainty, pressing into the deepest corners of us, pushing up against those last remaining molecules of patience we have left. Everything still feels like such a mess for so many of us, and what do we even have to show for all of this? A year of inconvenience, learning, questions, change, disappointment... For what? With half a million souls lost to this disease, what have we been doing any of this for? Haven't enough people died yet? Why are we even still fighting over just how devastating this situation has already been? And what do we have to look forward to if we can't even get human decency and compassion right?
I don't know.
But I know that good can come of the things that we lose while we wait.
I know that what dies can break apart into smaller pieces, and turn into something that feeds us.
Babies are born. Lessons are learned. People give up drinking. Healing begins. Families learn to make time for each other. Amends are made.
While we're sitting here, stuck, watching everything around us stagnate and rot and slowly shrivel away, underneath these days are also the beginnings of something new.
Maybe we all have to sit still and wait for a lot longer than we're used to. And maybe a lot will be lost in the process.
But loss can give, too.
Even if all we can see right now is what's gone, and what's gone wrong, loss will show us that something good is underneath it all.
Sometimes, it just takes a little time to see it.