Less than a week ago I was on the verge of giving up on gardening. Let me put this in perspective for you. My ‘garden’ is actually a 1,700m2 ex cow field. Having moved from a city where I had a postage stamp sized back yard to the rolling countryside of northern Spain nearly 8 years ago I decided I wasn’t going to do things by halves. This was my first mistake.
My second, and biggest, mistake was really a corollary of the first. Continuing with the theme of
biting off more than I can chew not doing things by halves, that first Spring I got a local farmer in to plough pretty much all of the field so that I could plant vegetables. Of course, I didn’t plant it to capacity. And I certainly didn’t weed it enough. Turned out all I did was create a wonderful space for weeds to invade. Bye bye meadow, hello brambles and thistles. Schoolgirl error.
So, I had taken a large and difficult project and in one fell swoop had multiplied the difficulty level by a factor of 5. And then I got depressed about it and decided to ignore it. You can probably guess how that worked out.
Intermittently over the last few years I have wrestled with my field, trying to tame it into some semblance of cultivation. Over the course of that time I’ve also had a few fairly valid excuses for not getting much done out there – the best part of a year spent with my right arm in a cast, a pregnancy, followed by a small, demanding child. There never seems to have been enough time to really devote to it.
Now my son is 4 and I feel this should be the time. It’s been in my mind that this would be the year when it would all come together. Then last month winter kicked in surprisingly early and viciously. It rained and raged for a full fortnight. I locked myself indoors and sulkily glowered at my sodden field, taunting all my inadequacies through its very visible existence.
I got to the point where I decided that the best course of action (in order to save my sanity) would be to just admit defeat. Focus my efforts elsewhere, on projects that I am better suited to. Work, writing, climbing. Forget the sodding field.
Just as I was right there, on the point of giving up, the sun came out. The sky turned blue and stayed that way. The ‘garden’ beckoned again. Right. I decided that I would focus on one small part of it. The flower borders around the small lawn to the top of the field. I wouldn’t even look at the rest. I was not taking on the challenge of the whole field again. I had already accepted defeat.
So it was that with lowly ambitions I took my son to hang out in (a small portion of) the field. We pottered around in the sunshine and I slowly began to remember how much I actually enjoy it. This being outdoors, this digging in the earth, this clearing of weeds to reveal neglected fruits and flowers.
After a few hours my back is aching but my heart is lightened. I take a moment to lean on my hoe and I dare to raise my eyes from the flower bed beneath my nose to take in the wider vista of the field. It looks different somehow. I can see how I might break it down into manageable chunks of work. Now I can see how much I can achieve in just a few hours of steady, solid labour concentrated on one small section my brain is calculating possibilities differently.
That was 5 days ago. The weather has held fair and we have spent all day every day of a 4 day weekend in the garden. My son has helped me with planting and taking cuttings and run around happily with his friend from next door. At night he has collapsed into bed and fallen asleep in seconds. I have enjoyed watching him reveling in nature and playing happily in the outdoors. This in itself would be enough. Add to it that I have continued to chip away at the gargantuan gardening task that lies before me and I am almost in nirvana.
Yet again I realize that the darkest point is right before the dawn. Being on the verge of giving up can force you to re-evaluate your perspective and re-draw your goals. Great joy can follow from near despair.