No, I don’t want to see your greenhouse, all gussied up with post-holiday mini-lights. In fact, IF I GET ANOTHER FACEBOOK UPDATE WITH A VERY CUTE GARDEN PICTURE, I AM GOING TO SCREAM. Oh, look, I already started screaming without even noticing. Because, clearly, I have been driven insane by the pervasiveness of precious homesteading photography.
I homestead. Sort of. Let’s just say I’m homestead-ish. I have raised beds, and chickens, and fruit trees, even sometimes a horse. None of which are scrapbook worthy. Why is this, I wonder, when everyone else seems to be ready for Sunset Magazine to walk in any day? For a while, I took to photographing my meager harvests in close-up with a wide-angle setting, to try and pass as competent. Look, I grew a whole cup of beans! I just saved the Earth!
But in reality (in stark contrast to facebook), I find gardening and homesteading to be, above all, messy. The horse manure that fuels the compost pile, well, it doesn’t clean itself up, and I only get around to it irregularly. And as for the chickens roaming at will about the place, well, they are a species not well known for its sphincter control.
My weeds get out of control at times, and I leave stacks of cornstalks lying around until they rot in place. While I was busy trying to clip back the ever-invading blackberries, my boys dug a mudpit that I keep thinking I’ll line with gopher wire and turn into another planting bed, but several years have passed without this coming to pass.
Thanks to our commitment to preserving bird habitat, large branches are always dropping in inconvenient places, and a rat has chewed through an essential part of my chainsaw, which I haven’t found time to repair.
Oh, and the big dog died, which means I now have a deer population problem (three: mom and two babies). 2012 was a total loss of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, sunflowers, sweet peas, tomatoes, greens, fruit trees, and all the other stuff…basically everything except citrus, winter squashes and gourds. This means that I get depressed whenever I try to do any gardening, which means I avoid the garden, which makes the garden even sloppier, which gets into a whole chicken-and-egg garden/depression cycle, and has the collateral damage of allowing big tangles of vines to grow up, providing the chickens with excellent places to hide their eggs, which makes it into a chicken-and-no-egg problem.
But as January 1 rolls around, I feel pretty good. After all, this time of year, I’m not really supposed to be doing anything (oh, shush, all you pruners—the deer did my pruning), and the bleak view in my garden is justified by the season. This respite gives me the mental space to get all zen and make those resolutions to keep my thoughts disciplined and to choose love. To take the high road above all the pettiness that three kids and an estranged ex-spouse can foment. I start taking all my vitamins again, and direct my brain to stay focused on the positive. I even manage to get outside to drag the piles of frozen cornstalks into the compost pile and clear the larger tangles out of the raised beds. Everything is great. New year, new me, new homestead. Break out the camera.
A few weeks in and, well, things are sliding. The rain made it too muddy to go out there. And then we had several heavy frosts, which make me garden-avoidant in fear that my failure to cover my citrus trees will have had severe consequences, and there will be no lemonade come spring. In other words, it’s a mess.
But… there’s always a “but.” I just gotta find it. And I think this time (New for 2013!), the “but” may just be a re-frame. I need to STOP looking at pictures of gardens and instead retrain myself about what real gardens, and real life, look like. It’s possible that I avoid my garden because it hasn’t turned out like the picture I have in my mind, like all the facebook posts of creative and well-designed food-rich sanctuaries. In that way, it stands in for my life, which looks, post-divorce, nothing like I planned. I thought my garden would be well-tended and neat, just like I thought my family would, and instead both are sprawling, unruly messes.
So I need to stop fighting what is, and accept that life, real life, is hella messy. I’m swearing off looking at pictures of perfect gardens (and for that matter “perfect” families). I mean, who even knows what’s lurking just outside the frame? And as soon as it gets even a little bit warm, I’m going out there to revel in my disheveled garden beds, and my mudhole, and all the vibrant weeds and sundry that thrive on neglect. After all, the blackberries may be an invasive pain in the butt, but they sure are delicious, come summer.