I learned to garden in California. As a college student, I often spent time in the student garden just off campus, assisting with what, in retrospect, appears to have been an experiment in just how much rainbow chard a bunch of twenty-year-old hippies can really eat while still remaining cheerful. The circumstances were ideal: a beautiful, fenced-in space atop a hill, a Mediterranean climate, double-dug raised beds, and a sweet little shed for storing seeds and tools.
Then, for a couple of years around the time that Mariam was born, we lived in Davis, California. Gardening conditions there were even better. In fact, they were very nearly perfect and my harvest success rate on the crops that I planted in our modest community plot was high. Very high. I think I even managed enough onions for storage one year.
So, the challenges of Vermont gardening have been, honestly, a bit of a surprise. Long-time readers of this little blog will probably remember the intensity and frequency of my complaints on this topic. Last year, in particular, was tough on the garden morale. Between Hurricane Irene and homegrown rodents of remarkable size and boldness, I lost everything. Everything. The flooding of the community garden was especially sad for Annie 2.0 who had spent hours upon hours working on our plot there while I was busy being a complete disaster of a pregnant person.
Our recent trip to California got me thinking about the Vermont garden conundrum. I want to garden. I want to grow, harvest, and feed my family from the earth around me. But, looking at the nearly effortless growing conditions available to my Northern California people sent me home feeling slightly embittered and more than a little cautious about allowing any optimism about the growing season ahead. Especially in light of the recent sightings of You-Know-Who. I mean, he had actually been coming to the front door lately!
And then yesterday, something very unexpected happened. After watching The Groundhog cruise around the yard off and on all morning, I was feeling very conflicted. As I watched him use our patio chairs to scratch his back, I thought about my options. Attempt to trap him? That didn't go well last year. Build a fence and make the backyard garden difficult to work in and even more difficult to enjoy? Plant only rodent-proof annuals? Give up? A few hours later, the decision was made for me. In a bizarre twist of fate, the groundhog, The Groundhog, was hit by a car on the street in front of our house. I'll admit to feeling relieved, although also a bit guilty, or regretful or something like that.
But, I also learned a lesson of sorts. Which is this: the cycle of life in the natural world (especially when it interacts with the human one) is unpredictable. Challenges to our attempts to cultivate plants and animals for our human purposes are frustrating, but they are also a reality. Being a grower (of anything, really), requires patience, thoughtfulness, faith and hard work. I may not be growing broccoli year round in the Northern California sandy loam, I may be pulling rocks the size of small boulders out of my garden every time I want to pop in a kale plant, and, I may be destined to watch torrential summer rain storms flatten my lettuce like vegetable pancakes. But, I resolve to make the best of it all anyway.
I kind of feel like I owe The Groundhog that much. Rest in Peace fat little garden nemesis.