Listening to her talk about digging ditches made me want to run outside and dig something… except that it is winter here and the ground is frozen. Day-to-day physical activity is something I miss sorely during the winter months. During the warm months there are average labors like planting seedlings, turning the compost pile, hauling buckets of water to the container plants out on the roof or getting on my bike to go anywhere I want. But in the winter exercise seems forced. I have to make a point to “get outside” on a long hike in the cold, or drag my reluctant ass to the gym where I then use a series of strange machines in a loud, obnoxious environment to achieve what comes so easy in the garden. I also find physical labor, especially in the garden, offers a chance to blow off steam or problem solve as my body goes through the motions of a task at hand. My body takes over on its own in a way that opens up space for my brain to go through its own motions and work through issues from a different perspective. Meditation in motion. The idea that I would be or should be striving to reach a point in my life where I can delegate those tasks to someone else… forget it! I would lose out on one of the places I find joy as a gardener. As a human being.
As a writer and speaker I am sometimes pressured to speak about gardening as easy work. In a way this is true. I try to put a positive and approachable spin on things because I whole-heartedly believe that gardening is something all of us can do. Gardening is for everyone. No one should be intimidated out of giving it a shot. But that’s not to say that it is easy. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is as easy as breathing. Unfortunately, what comes easy to one person can be utter hardship to another. Factors like personal strengths and weaknesses along with climate, conditions, location, resources, etc can dictate all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle differences from one gardener to the next. Sometimes it is brutally hard. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it.
I find real joy in hard work and labor. Sometimes I hate it and want to kick at the ground screaming. Never mind the things I can’t control: the groundhog that ate every bean and broccoli seedling; the summer a fluke weather pattern brought a plague of aphids in on the wind. Aphids literally rained down from the sky! Imagine how much hand squishing it took to get that under control.
Sometimes I love it and hate it all at once. I might complain about lifting bags of soil up five flights of stairs and hauling endless buckets of sloshing water through the apartment to the containers out on the roof, but all of that only serves to instill a heightened sense of pride in everything that comes out at the other end of the work: homegrown food and beautiful outdoor spaces to relax in. There are some good stories in there too. I often wonder if I would feel as much pride if the seeds just grew on their own with no help from me at all. Would I treasure each tomato in the way I do? Would I demand to be photographed with every zucchini plucked from the plant? Probably not.
So on top of the body, mind and spirit benefits that come from the hard work we do in the garden there is also the joy, pride, and sense of accomplishment that comes from something that is not handed over on a plate. The sense of something meaningful that is hard won. The taste of small victories.