Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Seed bee

The heck with winter—the seed catalogues are rolling in, and it’s time for our annual seed bee!

For the past few years, I and two neighbors have been convening in midwinter to compare garden plans, swap seeds, and assign tasks to make our individual gardening seasons more efficient and economic. This year we were joined by one of my oldest friends, who moved into the area last winter and spent her first gardening season discovering the differences between zone 5 and zone 3. Finally, I’m no longer the one with the worst sun, soil, and yield!

She, however, is perhaps the most zealous gardener among us, so I predict that her garden will outperform all of ours in the not too distant future.

But that’s beside the point. This year our seed bee became a micro CSA program. That’s because I will not be doing a garden. Instead, I will contribute time, labor, and resources to other people’s gardens in order to get a share of their produce.

Why am I bailing out of vegetable gardening after fifteen years? Mainly, burnout. Not on gardening, but yardwork in general, owing to the enormous backlog of projects, and the time and physical exertion they will take to complete in our brief outdoor season. Big events recounted in previous blog posts—particularly, the pine tree logout and my mother’s demise—rendered our yard and garden out of control, if not set back two years in progress.

When I add up what must be done just to clear the yard enough to mow by May—never mind to catch up on ten cords’ worth of firewood processing, and to start or finish projects that have been desired or planned for years, and then preparing, maintaining, and harvesting a garden on top of it all, around paying work that controls the tempo, and any little recreational time we manage to snatch—I either start to cry or calculate packing my car and hitting the highway and never looking back.

Not the right attitude for making things grow and flourish!

Thankfully, my generous, enthusiastic neighbors are willing to plant a little extra and share. All I have to do is pony up some cash for materials and spend a few hours a month helping plant, weed, or harvest. Then, in my own yard, I can just toss seeds into containers and enjoy happy-colored flowers. The veggie garden will be planted with a green manure, probably buckwheat, to prevent it from becoming a weed disaster. My neighbor who has done this during bed rotation claims it attracts tons of bees.

So we’ve found a way to solve our collective challenges and become better friends while at it. What a great way to spend a winter morning!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cold is beautiful

This is the time of year I dread most: a solid week of subzero temps; on a good day, a high in the single digits. This year, more so than others, a biting wind has come with it. All I want to do is crawl under the covers and sleep it away.

But of course, life goes on—as much indoors as possible! Even that’s a strain, though, with freezing pipes, firewood consumption higher in three days than otherwise for a month, and static electricity making the cat run away when you try to pet him, and your hair standing on end.

Looking out the window, however, makes all that go away for a moment.

This evening, I caught the most glorious sunset! Beyond the white stretches of snow bounded by gray and brown trees, peeking above them, the hills suddenly went roseate. Purple, mauve, and magenta, with the crystalline sky above forming a perfect pastel rainbow of violet, lilac, and pink, easing seamlessly into peach then baby blue, growing ever more richer and deeper blue as I looked up to an almost-full moon gleaming white like a high-beam headlight behind the black skeleton arms of near-view trees.

(That moon, in fact, tends to wake us up at 2:00 in the morning as it crosses the sky and suddenly beams into the bedroom. We don’t have curtains, so it’s quite a poke in the eye when you roll over!)

And then, the stars! OMG, you can see to the end of the universe. All that’s missing is an aurora borealis to add the final glory. I still dream about seeing one someday.

But color comes in other forms, at similarly surprising moments. Yesterday morning, while doing the dishes, I glanced out the window at the bird feeder and almost dropped a plate. Normally all we see this time of year are the black/white/gray/brown species; but there, on opposite sides of the feeder, were a brilliant red cardinal and an equally brilliant blue jay. In a second, they were gone.

That was payback for all those mornings I’ve donned six layers and trudged outside to refill the feeders. And the view out the curtainless windows is payback for the chill that comes through unblanketed glass.

Friday, January 18, 2013

An antidote to winter

For years I resisted getting an electric blanket. Not only because of Yankee stoicism, but also because of cost and a secret fear that the thing would set the bed on fire.

Those concerns eventually went away, and for 20 years now I’ve been enjoying the luxury of an always-warm sleep space. It’s proven to be a greater luxury than anticipated, for it adds, unexpectedly, a spiritual quality to every winter’s day.

No matter what’s going on, no matter how good or rotten a day has been; no matter how I feel, physically or emotionally, when I slip between the pre-warmed covers, I am transported to gratitude. All I can think is, “Ahhh . . . life is good.”

My last thoughts before sleep are how lucky I am. How safe and warm, how fed and loved. While outside the walls the world is frozen solid, and wild creatures—as well as millions of people—are struggling to survive and suffering for the effort, I am cocooned in security. My anxieties over money and world peace and climate change and career and relationships all disappear for a few blessed hours, merely from the simulation of crawling back into the womb.

Amazing, how therapeutic a simple electric device can be!

I therefore recommend that everyone who lives in a cold climate—or even just a seasonally chilly one—and who can pull the money together run out and get an electric blanket if they don’t already have one. This relatively small investment will have a huge beneficial return in peace of mind and ease of body. All winter, every winter, year after year.