i realized soon after i pushed “publish” that i hadn’t written a word about the garden. it’s still there, buried under the mulching leaves that freeze every night. when i last checked…oh, a week ago or so…the beets were still growing. i plan on digging them out later this week, even if they are still tiny. half a pan-full of roasted beets is better than no pan-full of roasted beets, and i know i could use the green tops in my “rather brown” diet as of late.

today has been cold, but somewhat productive. last night i realized i had an item to return to a store, which later turned into christmas gifts at the thrift store down the road. if i get paid on friday (payday, i think…), then i can finish early – a christmas miracle since i’m typically the one wrapping into the wee hours of christmas morn. the thrift store had some gems that i left on the shelf. perhaps i’ll return after payday to see if the treasures are still there.

aside from the frozen garden i’m thinking of all the things this venture has brought up in and around me. the friendships that were strained, the family bonds that were strengthened. the way this one move has stoked in me the desire to make another, and hopefully for the better this time. how i’ve been a great roommate, while at the same time a terrible friend. how quickly i can establish a comfortable routine, that lacks in vitality. pondering the age old question of friends and relationships, posited by when harry met sally. and then there’s the gym…wasn’t i supposed to join the gym already?

another month gone. it’s cold here, freezing most every night and adding stress to mornings in the form of frozen windows and door locks.

the last month has been the proverbial roller coaster of emotions, with unexpected loss and death in the extended community; a job offer, at a big-box grocery store; ups and downs of confidence; thoughts of how amazing this house and town would be if i had a family, but how almost completely stifling it is without one; thankfulness and fear, setbacks and steps forward. some sick sort of balance, i guess.

before the sort-of-schedule of work began, i had some time to refresh social media every five minutes, and happened upon two extremely small venue shows – in the right place (bed) at the right time (one in the afternoon). i set out with a borrowed pair of docs, a plaid shirt and a grey beanie and walked in to a 40-person amy ray show. before i got there a friend wished me a room full of kind people, and it was delivered. i sat, front row, next to the nicest of ladies who chatted me up about the seattle job scene, the phoenix weather, and the crazy luck of getting tickets to the sold-out show.

it was a joint show with lindsay fuller, who was as charming as a guitar-playing idgie threadgoode, with enough southern sass to fill the shoes. lindsay and amy shared the night, all but passing the mic back and forth to each other. the only down point of the night was a poorly-timed text that turned a bit of my attention to thoughts of returning to an empty house. i walked out with a mandolin still jangling in my ear and drove home to quiet.

a week later, i pulled out a different plaid and boots and drove the thirty miles again, this time toward a poetry event headlined by andrea gibson. tara hardy and a couple of members from youth speaks seattle started the night, but andrea brought me in. before shyly walking on stage she sat a few feet in front of me, watching the rest of the show in the audience. her slightness surprised me, that a being so small holds a voice so large. after her set i walked up to buy a book, and dumbly responded “i do” to her “i hope you like it!” dumb, i was struck dumb. no matter. i walked down the outside stairs into the crisp night and hurried to my car, parked in a nearby neighborhood, fast asleep. i drove home feeling inspired, but lost it somewhere over the last two weeks of training to ring up the donuts. it’s time, once and for all, to write everyday without fail, artist’s way-style discipline.

it’s my “saturday” today, and i’m spending time trolling jobs on craigslist and idealist, and contemplating baking. typically i bake when i’m procrastinating, or homesick, or want to fill someone’s belly because i am the original food-pusher. i think today i’ll try pizza mini muffins, to see if they are freezeable and kid-friendly for a sort of homemade christmas gift.

thirty minutes later they are out of the oven, hot and tasty. not quite pizza, but flavorful enough to satisfy a craving. also, how many is this recipe supposed to serve? because i’ve already had six seven without much of a thought.

these lonely days pull me into melancholy for arizona — not the place, but the people. the family, friends, 10-6 m-f job, no matter how crazy things felt at the time. even the heat seems bearable from here, in the frost. i’ll go home for christmas, and hope that i’m not a mess on the plane ride back to washington. the next step hangs towers over me, and if i can make it happen, maybe i can return here with a bigger foot to put in the door career-wise. i do school well, and i love it. why not go forward now, with a somewhat uncomplicated life? i can only hope the right complications arrive along the way, but for now i have to move on alone.

 

September and October came and went with visits from friends and family, trips down to the city and the beginning of this thing the cool kids call “networking.” The tree out front went from vibrant green to yellow, then orange, then red, and is now releasing leaves into the morning wind. “Welcome to our new life — rain,” says my housemate. I still like it, though it threatens to stand in the way of my outdoor plans. It’s amazing to me how quickly I began to utter “Oh! It’s a perfectly sunny day!” The jaded Arizona grrrl inside me is screaming, but I do, here, look forward to seeing the sun.

The clouds and rain still are lovely, though. As I write I peer out the window to watch the steady drizzle and thank the nearby co-op for their supply of cheap rain boots. Hats, scarves, boots and coats…these things no longer are ridiculous accessories. I do, at times, wish there was wood for the fireplace, but the gas is quick and painless, a no-fuss press of a button and instant warmth.

 

The garden went from abundant to overgrown to almost gone in a month. I dug out what I thought were the last of the potatoes from the back, then returned with a bow rake to even out the soil and found another 5 or so pounds hiding out of reach. The tomato plants dwarfed everything in sight and, ultimately, gave us a crop of inedible small green fruit. I tried to ripen them inside, or even to prep them for canning, but I didn’t catch them in time. I managed to oven dry a pan of them, but even those are a bit too green to be tasty. It’s all about learning, though, and next time they won’t go to waste.

Now I watch the beets I planted in early September, and the spinach a few days later. The tiny onion shoots may end up as chives and the cabbage has only developed into pretty, sparse little plants. If nothing else, they can become compost for next season. The beets still hold promise, and the spinach is small but mighty. The three frosts I’ve counted haven’t taken these two plots down, so I’ve insulated them a bit with crimson leaves. Yesterday I finally furrowed a few small rows and planted heirloom garlic. I can wait out the winter while reading almanacs and books, waiting for just the right moment to put seed back into ground.

Alongside the garden, life continues on. I began volunteering for a street newspaper and even entered (and won) a baking contest, both of which help me to feel real, worthy and contribute-able. Though it feels like an endless number of days, it’s really only been four months — a third of a year being mostly alone, “the last place,” sings Brandi Carlile, “I wanted to be.” But I’m surprising myself by being mostly ok, and still, always, hopeful. A shared glass of wine at the end of the evening helps me remember to be thankful for the moments as they come, and know that right now this is where I am.

 

*A thank-you to a friend, whose camera I still carry around all these years later. And I still promise to give it back. ; )

This is a journal of my venture into gardening, stepping into someone else’s very large boots and reworking the soil after he left the world. I come here, to a small town north of Seattle, from a suburb of Phoenix, where I spent all of my previous 33 years. I left behind almost everything and everyone I know, bringing only what fit in my car and following a friend to her hometown after her grandfather passed away. We are here to start anew; she to reestablish relationships with family members and me to attempt the life I think I want, away from entanglements of family and friends, as bittersweet as leaving may be. And, truthfully, right now it’s a fuck of a lot more bitter than sweet.

We left at the beginning of July, driving out west and then up north. California, I have learned, is a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad state to drive – at least when you’re the only one in the car. But that is behind us now, along with a month of cleaning this house full of memories and tchotchkes. We pulled up carpet and fell in love with the warm wood below; have sprayed off outdoor furniture and given the indoor surfaces a much-needed scrub.

And now I attempt to infuse some self-discipline into these scattered bones. The life I left was filled with social engagements, whether with friends or family, but not much ambition to move forward. I felt as if I was still stumbling through my teenage years, accepting low-paying jobs and doubting the advances of lady callers, thinking myself unworthy of more. “It will be lonely, but I think I am ready for a bit of loneliness,” I said to folks I left back home. Fuck that. I was SO NOT ready for this. And so here I am, struggling through day 57, with not much to show for my shiny new life.

But the garden…the garden is here and now, and beginning to show some promise. Some years ago, Grandpa Bob tilled an 8×8 square in the back yard, right out there in the middle of everything. Grandpa and Grandma Bob moved into an assisted living space some months ago, when old age finally caught up with them. Neighbor Bob cared for the yard as Grandpa Bob would have—carefully, and with a “bumper crop” mentality. After weeding and watering, and weeding again, and then weeding yet again, I can see tomatoes coming in on at least four of the large plants. The five red potato plants stand tall and have flowered and gone to fruit; fruit which looks not unlike their tomato neighbors. I’ve felt around and I think we’ll have potatoes for months at this pace. Two acorn squash are rounding out under wide leaves, and a few pickling cucumbers laze on the ground under crawling vines. Green beans climb up the three large poles on the east side of the plot. If August was a food, around here it would be a green bean, picked plump and fresh every few days, tossed into pots of roast and the weekly stir-fry. The foodie in me is giddy.

Today I welcomed September by transplanting a few herb and veggie starts from a nursery a-ways down the road. We’ll see how the lettuce, rosemary, basil and cilantro do here, since all I know of gardening comes from watching a former housemate till the desert soil back home. It is a welcome task that takes me away from a glaring computer screen full of tabs of potential jobs; cover letters waiting to be written to show off why you, potential employer, need me, the best employee ever. Self-aggrandizing, I do not do you well.

I’m not sure how this project will go, but, I hope, the writing will help. Inevitably it will become a giant blog metaphor; my life as a garden. There are worse things, I’m sure.

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