Today I “dug out” an older essay (from 2006!)—because it fits for all election seasons. This year my garden was not challenged by drought, but in each year (and each election season) we have unique challenges and decisions. Here’s hoping that we sort through them, educate ourselves, and do what is best.
Though an avid gardener for the last decade, this year, this drier-than-dust spring, I replaced my perennial optimism with a screw-it attitude. “I’m not pouring water on the landscape this year,” I vowed. “I just won’t do it.” I wouldn’t plant thirsty heirloom tomatoes, wouldn’t go nuts with exotic annual beauties that died with the frost. I wouldn’t plant new shrubs and worry over their establishment. This year my resources—time, money, and precious water—would not be wasted. Feeding my soul with green beauty seemed foolish anyway. If Colorado Springs was going desert, if we’d soon be up to our asses in cactus, why fight it?
I had to admit the bad attitude came partly from the political climate. Colorado’s drought-baked earth seemed to mirror our country’s hardened heart; why should I continue to worry, and to care? Why should I bother with cultivating, or voting?
I watched grass, weeds and less-loved plants struggle, crinkle, and turn brown. And I let them. Silently I judged the neighbors naive, keeping theirs on life support. Didn’t they know it wasn’t worth it? June eclipsed May. More dry sleep, sepia death. I watered only once a week, a front garden that contained special darlings I could not bear to let suffer.
Then it rained. And rained. I saw plants with stamina flourish, and new ones born. In mid-July we returned from vacation to grass tall enough to mow. A crop of healthy weeds everywhere, but more than that. Tomato plants sprung from seeds, squash too, all robust. While they would not grow to maturity, they testified life went on—without my blessing. I found dill and parsley to clip for summertime meals, marigolds, calendula, sweet bronze fennel babies, Hopi red dye plants. I discovered that honeybees had made a hive out back, in an old iron stove.
One day, I saw that an elderly neighbor had placed bricks around a lone corn plant growing in his front yard. He sat in an aluminum lawn chair next to it.
“Nice corn you have there,” I said.
He chuckled, looked up at me from under his sun hat. “You know, the squirrels, they plant these kernels around, and then they just forget about them.”
I gestured at a single, silk-tasseled swelling. “Looks like you’re getting an ear.”
“We’ll see what happens.” He smiled contentedly and settled back into his front row seat.
I had learned my lesson. Gardeners aren’t quitters. By the end of September, my own drought had been replaced by that pesky optimism.
I would believe again, in my garden, and in my country. This fall, I would vote, and I would buy bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, lilies, hyacinths, and more, secret treasures in plain brown wrappers. Years ago I learned that if you cut a tulip bulb in half, you can see it all—tightly packed embryonic leaves, minuscule stem and flower. All there in pale perfection, waiting for the right time to grow.
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