I haven’t written about the garden this spring for a couple of reasons. One, we’ve been so busy with the kitchen renovation that I got really behind in the garden. At least a month behind, or more. The other reason I haven’t written much about the garden has to do with this new lesson I’ve been learning.
I have always been a goal-oriented, task-conscious person. I have been a working toward a series of goals my whole life, it seems. I’ve achieved many, although not all, of them. I think it’s important to have goals, to set tasks and follow through. This is one definition of responsibility, and I believe in fulfilling one’s responsibilities. But lately, I have been learning a new kind of lesson in my garden.
The lesson is this: Do what you love, but not to the point that it hurts you. Or in other, more concise but overused words: Listen to your body. This might seem an obvious statement, but to many of us compulsive-gardener types (and other compulsive types), it can be a revelation. I realized last summer that doing what I love was hurting me. And I don’t mean just temporary pain. I mean what I was doing, overworking myself in the garden, was contributing to the worsening of an ongoing problem.
My profile page for this blog mentions my disability. (I really hate that word, but what else can you use?) I’ve spent most of my life ignoring the fact that I have severe scoliosis, which is curvature of the spine, for those who don’t know. My spine is shaped like an elongated, backwards S. My whole torso has been twisted and shaped by the curving and twisting of my spine, and in fact, doctors and physical therapists have told me that most likely my inflammatory problems in joints and bones in the rest of my body can be traced back to the dysfunction of my spine.
I resolved when I was twelve years old not to let scoliosis define my life. It might shape my body, but it wouldn’t determine who I would be. But at sixty years old, I’ve learned that’s nonsense. Of course something so consuming defines one’s life! How can it not? But what I’ve also learned is that this kind of shaping doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
I believe that every life is a conversation or negotiation between body and spirit (and mind and heart and maybe some other things as well.) There’s a verse in the Bible that I’ll take out of context. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” I find much truth about myself in that short sentence. My spirit is willing to stay out all day in the hot sun and pull weeds until I can barely move my legs. In my head, I LOVE doing that! I love taking a messy patch of ground and making it neat and tidy. But my flesh is weak. My body simply can’t take that kind of abuse any more, and it should never have been subjected to that kind of abuse. If the body is a temple of the spirit (taking another verse out of context), then it should be cared for. In that negotiation between body and spirit, both should have a voice and be listened to.
So last fall, I resolved to cut back in the garden. This meant that I wouldn’t plant enough tomatoes to can or make salsa this year. I have plenty left over from previous years. I wouldn’t plant green beans to can. I have some in the pantry still. I wouldn’t plant potatoes, because I shouldn’t be digging to plant them or digging to harvest them. I wouldn’t plant cucumbers because I don’t need pickles. I wouldn’t plant pumpkins because I still have pumpkin puree in the freezer.
It was much harder this spring, come planting time, to stick to that resolve, but I did it. I only planted ten tomatoes (instead of twenty-five), two peppers (instead of a dozen), and a few winter squashes. I planted more cantaloupes than usual for eating fresh because they are so easy, but half of them died for no reason I can tell. That’s the garden taking care of me when the spirit overcame the body, I guess! I didn’t even plant any carrots because I had heirlooms go to seed and reseed. I did plant a lot of cabbage, and between the little brown slugs and the deer getting into the garden through a gate left open, I only have three plants left, so I won’t be making any sauerkraut. God and the garden taking care of me again, presumably.
As for weeding, that’s another negotiation. Spirit says, “Get out there and get those weeds pulled before they take over the squash and tomatoes!” Body says, “You can do a little today, and little the next day, and you’ll get it done. And if you don’t, what’s the worst that can happen?” Spirit says, “Duh! They’ll take over the garden!” Then mind intervenes and reminds both body and spirit that an integrated, semi-wild garden is a good thing for plants, birds, bees, and other pollinators. Yes, mind has a voice to heed too.
Day before yesterday, I weeded the squash patch.
I thought I was setting a realistic goal. Spirit thought so. Body thought so. Mind thought so. I only pushed myself a little to finish it, and then later my knee told me that was a bad idea. (It would have been really nice if my knee had told me to stop before I was finished, but it didn’t.) Yesterday, I heeded the lesson. Spirit really wanted to get the whole tomato patch weeded. Body said, “Remember your knee? Do half.” Mind concurred. So I did half. And today, I finished the rest of the tomato patch.
It took three days to do what I would once have pushed to do in a day (or less). And the world didn’t end, and the weeds didn’t take over. And my knee feels okay, and the rest of me doesn’t feel too bad either. That’s progress.