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Coloring Outside the Lines

The house is dark, save a few slants of remaining moonlight abdicating to the slowly rising sun. Pothos and philodendron leaves cascade down weathered furniture fronts, and rustle from the breeze creeping through the open doors and windows.

Rhythmic dripping from a leaky outside spigot acts as an early morning metronome while I fill the water kettle and push the windows open as far as they can extend. I feed JoJo, and slip on my battered shoes to empty the brimming, spigot-filled bucket around the bases of my tomato and pepper plants.

I pluck the yellowing leaves from my bush beans and reposition the baby eggplants so that they grow in the opposite direction of neighboring plants’ rogue, unfurling tendrils. Tomatoes are reddening and strawberries are beginning to drip down from their leafy flowers.

The garden is tiny, and was thrown together in desperation, with seeds and starts sown by a beginner.

***

My efforts to reclaim this oddly-shaped spit of land from the suffocating canopy and invasive ground cover began in the yard’s lone, rotting raised bed.

[Image description: an overgrown raised bed with trash and weeds.]
[Image description: an overgrown raised bed with trash and weeds.]
The house was hot, and we’d just decided to divorce; piles of boxes, furniture, and paint cans accreted in every corner. Nothing was finished. Everything was undone—in a state of flux. We’d been coloring within the lines for four years; and then we both strayed outside, scribbling in different directions.

But then and there, as the heat nipped the back of my neck, I annexed the raised bed—ripped out all of the weeds and bagged up the dirt-caked garbage. An hour later, it was trimmed and cleaned—the soil upturned, ready to welcome new crops.

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[Image description: same raised bed, completely cleared.]
Weeks later, I’d raised my hodgepodge garden enclosure around it—with novel expectations that it’d soon overflow with a rich vegetative bounty. But then a tremendous deep chill moved in—settling over Seattle, making it one of the coldest and wettest winters on record. Tarps and pins held the garden in place, secured my culinary cache. I naively believed I’d be rewarded for all the hours-long tending—the snow-shoveling, the pest removal.

But when the sun regained its footing and danced across my freshly exposed starts, they all bolted, leaving me to scrape off immature leaves and tiny vegetables, and YouTube multiple videos answering questions about the potential adverse health consequences of eating broccoli flowers.

All that was left to do was rip out everything I’d spent months fretting over. And start again. In gardening, there’s little room for sentimentality.

Nearly a year later, the fourth iteration of the garden has been the most successful yet.

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[Image description: garden enclosure with door open, along the back side of the house.]
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[Image description: inside of garden enclosure. Multiple plants in containers, with some tomatoes visible.]
By now I know not to expect every plant to fruit out at the same time; there will rarely be an instance in which I’m overwhelmed with immense yields.

But each evening my little garden provides: a few beans here, two tomatoes there, and a handful of mixed greens.

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And that’s all I need.

***

Just beyond the garden fence, the weathered bird bath stands crookedly, the tiny, placid puddle contained within it interrupted intermittently by flocks of finches. Beyond it, in the tree branches once choked by ivy, Northern Harriers sit and eye the open yard. Engorged spiders trundle down delicate silken threads anchored to newly erupted leaves.

Sun beams down and warms my dirt-covered hands, and I smile up into the welcoming warmth.

I stoop into the scraggily garden—and listen to the frenetic chirps, feel the watchful hawks’ gazes, and remind myself that I’m just another piece in this landscape.

I tend the soil, pull out browning stalks, and run my fingertips over budding fruit—their pale green, stubbly faces soaking in the light.

Preparing to fill with color.

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