A Yard of One’s Own

Since 2000, I have lived in a condominium. Our building is U-shaped, and there is a large outdoor courtyard in the middle of the U, complete with tables and chairs and gas grills. But you must take the elevator to the first floor in order to utilize the courtyard, and then you are frequently socializing with your neighbors.

I am an introvert.  So in order for me to enjoy my summer meals outside I must be neighborly and make small talk with the people in my building, or drag my kids along, or take the elevator down, cook the food, then take it upstairs to eat it.  The final option negates the benefits of having any outdoor space.  My kids are either full-time or part-time vegetarians so they rarely care about grilled food.  Nor do they care about being neighborly, because they’re kids.  They are growing out of that, and now they are growing into people who are less introverted than their mother and don’t understand her.

When my mother died, about eighteen months ago, and left a modest inheritance to my sisters and myself, I invested the money.  Then the stock market became highly volatile, mortgage rates were at an all time low, and I realized that each and every morning I hung my head out of my bathroom window gasping for air, nine stories up.  I am somewhat claustrophobic.  So, the confluence of these factors—a little money, low interest rates, claustrophobia—led me to somewhat impulsively buy a weekend home in Michigan.

I bought the second house I saw.  This sounds crazier than it actually was.  I had met the people who owned the house.  It came recommended by their decorator and mutual friends.  It is a 1945 Cape Cod, renovated, with a screened porch, a terrific kitchen, and beach rights.  I brought along a friend who does home inspections.  He looked it over very carefully and declared it had very few issues.  So I bought it.

I closed in November, and the sellers left a lot furniture so we had a sofa, chairs, beds to sleep on, even a TV to watch; the kids and I came whenever we could—when I wasn’t working or traveling.   They were thrilled to have a new house too.  It seemed odd to me, since they’re adult women.  But home is still where Mom is, I guess.  I bought us all warm robes and slippers for Christmas.  Olga made the trip with us too, but had trouble with the car rides and wood floors.  Her legs gave out, so we put her bowl on a carpet, and were glad we had this time with her at our new home.

But today I experienced the wonder of early spring.  I have daffodils in my new yard.  There are blooms on the pachysandra, and crocuses poking up along the driveway.  This year the warm sunny March weather has made everyone in the North a little uncomfortable.  We’re glad for the reprieve from the harshness of our usual winters, for the length of them, for the relentless grayness of them.  At the same time, it ain’t normal.

As the trees bud, and the flowers bloom, we worry they will be frozen again, as will we.  And their full glory will be lost in our greed for an early spring.  So it’s weird, but wonderful anyway.

I missed gardening for ten years.  I compare it to being in a bad marriage, sort of.  You don’t realize how bad it was until it stops.  Like when you beat your head against a wall for a very long time, the pain doesn’t immediately go away just because you stop the beating.  You still bleed for a while.  It takes time for the concussion to clear and your thought processes to right themselves.

Gardening, for me anyway, is therapeutic.  It is like exercise without the workout clothes and the feeling of self-indulgence, that there’s something more important I should be doing.  It is going outdoors with purpose.  It is being part of the earth in the smallest possible way.  It allows me to tidy without anyone nagging me.  It allows me to not be tidy because, who can control nature in the end?  It is infinitely satisfying.  It is gratification without exceptional delays.

This weekend I had my first real gardening experience in years, in a yard of my own, that I would be able to tend and plant and grow for years to come.  I learned where the hose outlets were, found a gas outlet for a gas grill, realized I have a sprinkler system and found the controls.  I bought a rake, gloves, and clippers to start.  I am good to go.