Friday, May 16, 2014

Shiver in My Bones Thinking About the Weather

We will not have a garden this year. And it doesn't even make me sad to say this. I am, for the time being, at least, relieved.

Since we live in a condo, we have no ground of our own, but we do rent a garden plot in our community garden. Every year we get 20 feet by 30 feet of dirt to grow what we want, which is usually tomatoes, peppers, onions, and squash along with some flowers (Cosmos have been recent favorites).

This can happen to you.
For the past ten years, I have looked forward to getting the garden started, and to the July or August twilights when I could stand among the growing things and take in how earth and summer smell -- like dirt and wind and the sharpness of tomato leaves and the natural rot of compost and whatever the trees surrounding the plots are offgassing. The plots sit between houses, a church, a road, and a park, so while I am inhaling I hear a background buzz of kids' voices, lawn equipment, and cars going by at 40 MPH. Around 6 PM. church bells ring, and once in a while a plane climbs from Midway Airport. And I feel that the garden is just a normal part of the world, and that the world can accommodate everything just given the space and time.

When I remember this, I forget other things. Like that we work, and that there are some days when I am sitting at work during the only nice sunny day in a week, sitting while I could be feeding the plants or tying up rogue tomato branches or detail-weeding around each plant. Or, conversely, doing errands on a rainy Saturday that was supposed to be a gardening day. Or waiting for the soil, which is very heavily shot with clay, to dry out so that the gasping mud does not take my shoe with it when I try to water.

Yes it was. Note the snow in the background.
Even if the only book about farming you've ever read was by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you know that it's hard. The Ingalls actually had some agricultural troubles of Biblical proportions, but mostly, they battled weather. Same as it every was -- the weather is what is halting my gardening ambitions for now.

Every year, I conveniently forget the stress that my plot caused me. Since we started gardening, it has gone from a what-the-hell-let's-try-it hobby to a member of our family that is with us for the summer. But every year this visitor is getting worse and worse at telling us when she will be arriving and what mood she will be in when she gets here.

So let's talk about the winter of 2013-2014. Actually, let's let 2013 off the hook. She was snowy, but should not be blamed for her successor's supremely bad temper.

Let's throw a few dates out there. First, January 2, the day of a huge snowfall that kept most businesses and schools closed for an extra day after the holiday. But snow -- we can handle that. Let's move on to January 13, when the temperature at noon was -14 degrees. I thankfully have blotted out that morning's commute but for some reason clearly remember the afternoon drive home. I prayed that both my car and  body did not shatter into a million pieces. I saw a woozy aura around the expressway, and felt like I was driving into a gray monster's eye. Possibly, I was hallucinating, but I came home and I said I would never again leave the house if it was below 10 below (notice I am eliding over the wind chill.)

Today is May 16, and there have been about seven nice days since January. Today, in some parts of the Chicago area, it was snowing this morning.

Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest,
who is clearly more interested in posing
than in securing me a fruitful garden.
Nice dress, though!
If it was like this every year, perhaps I could adjust my gardening accordingly. But two years ago, we had a freaky hot spring that brought us a streak of 80-degree days in March. Then July rains that wiped out a lot of our neighbors' plants. Sometimes the heat lasts into October, which is great because peppers need it hot for a long time, and they do very well with long summers. Sometimes you can feel the chill on Labor Day weekend, and you know to pack it in.

Laura Ingalls Wilder taught me that farming is fraught with risk because the weather is fickle. But the Ingalls had to farm, raise livestock, and secure their home against the weather. We do not. Sadly, we would be better off if we could return somewhat to the days of raising even a small portion of our own food. We all have questions about where our food comes from, and the simplest solution is to be your own farmer. The one thing I envy about the Ingalls is that they not only could but had to build our lives around the weather. We refuse to do so anymore, trying to bend the weather to us. But Mother Nature, I fear, is no gymnast.

1 comment:

Marc said...

"But every year this visitor is getting worse and worse at telling us when she will be arriving and what mood she will be in when she gets here."

The whole post is excellent, but I feel the quote above sums it up.