Confession time. I’m a total fake when it comes to any form of “homesteading.” I’m a wanderer at heart. A forager by trade. Crocuses, strawberries, wild roses, mushrooms, cranberries, pinecones. I grew up wandering and gathering, taking what the forest and riverbank had to offer. I grew up wondering, listening to the water and the earth. I was never one for cultivating.
The only garden I ever tried to grow, a tiny triangle in a friend’s half-acre of bounty, was a dismal failure. I don’t remember harvesting a single plant or fruit thereof. I weeded out the seedlings. I neglected to water. I proved that my “Little House on the Prairie” dreams were not all they were cracked up to be. I remember declaring my interest in farming to my friend’s mother, and her subtle condescension as she responded that farmers have to get up really early and work hard, you know.
Now, with a little more knowledge and a little more discipline, I have reaped the rewards of what I’ve planted in our humble veggie patch. But I believe that has been more so in spite of me than because of me. This year alone the green arrow peas dried in their pods before I got out to pick them. The lettuce bolted. The spinach wilted. I watched in fascination as a horde of hungry bugs descended on the kale for a week or so, steadily devouring each leaf, and I did nothing about it. A real farmer asked me at church one Sunday what my plan was for dealing with pests. I said something along the lines of, well, I just throw things in the ground and hope for the best! He thought I was joking. The green tomatoes I dutifully harvested before the frost (I do well with hard deadlines, I must admit) are now slowly rotting in bowls on the counter.
My husband accuses me of being an idealist, and he is right. The books make it look so pretty! I don’t think I’ll be winning an award from the PEI Rural Beautification Society anytime soon.
And I see it all as some kind of character flaw. Gardening is not actually all that difficult, and I do love to eat local. It’s the responsible thing to do, given we have a bit of land. It fits with so much of what I want for our lives here. Regardless, I lack the discipline. I lack the inner bent. Things go a bit wild, and I am prone to wander off in the only clump of trees and bushes around to measure the growth of the saplings and hunt for old man’s beard.
While others dig in, I prefer to discover. To go out and see what Mother Nature has to offer on a given day. To linger, finger, and ponder. To be surprised.
Perhaps it’s outright laziness. Sure, we all have preferences. Like sleeping in and more chocolate. But Laura and Mary would not have shirked their duties! They would have starved otherwise. The stakes are not as high for me, but when I look out on the dishevelled mess that is not yet ready for winter, the sad swiss chard that nobody wants to eat just now is giving me that wilted, disappointed look.
So why do I persist, I wonder? I could just let it go, cut my losses, and buy my produce at the farmers’ market. But then I think of my childhood heroes, and if I don’t at least try, I will feel unworthy of the legacy of so many hardworking people who scraped their suppers out of the ground and stocked up for the cold months ahead. I will feel unworthy of my fertile red soil. I will feel unproductive, and somehow less than the others with their tidy rows picked and pickled in season.
I don’t dislike gardening. I actually love getting my fingers in the dirt. I love standing with the hose in hand on a summer’s eve, just thinking about things and listening to the birds. I love eating our own carrots out of the cellar in February, and putting together a whole meal with the work of our hands and the land. There are many things I love about having a garden, but that does not mean I find it easy. It goes against my nature, somehow. But isn’t that what being a grown-up is all about? Learning to do the things you aren’t good at? Persisting in the face of the difficult? Resisting the urge to only do what comes naturally? Becoming self-disciplined enough to (one day) put the tools away before it rains and just keep weeding?
I feel I must prove myself. To whom? My family? My friends and neighbours? The whole Almanzo Wilder household? Myself? I’m not sure.
I just know that I must keep on going, like I keep on living, throwing specks of nothing into black holes and hoping whole worlds will grow. Funny thing is, they often do.
It’s like Mother Nature is saying, I know you’d rather be napping in a mossy hollow, or dancing with the dryads, or searching for cranberries on the boreal forest floor, but if you will just kneel down here for awhile, I have something to show you. There are still surprises, even for imposters like you. There’s wonder, even in this rectangle. And you can always buy a new hoe next spring.