Friday, June 26, 2020


I was really slow getting the garden in this year.  I gave myself ten days to turn over the vegetable garden but didn't manage to get it done in the ten days because some of those were cold and grey; others were unimaginably windy, and the wind makes my vertigo worse (or windy days make my vertigo worse, maybe because the air pressure is changing).  I got most of the seeds in on time, but some of the tomatoes were a bit late.  I got most of the mulch out on time because Bill had arranged to have it delivered and to have someone  help me.  There are still a couple of spots that need more mulch, but I also need to dig up more creeping bellflower and put down landscape fabric to discourage the bellflower from coming back before I finish that off.  I fertilized the lawn more or less on schedule, but putting down the seed, fertilizer, and mulch to fill in the holes took longer than necessary.  I was really late getting flowers into pots for the front deck.  I still haven't painted the front stairs or the old bench in the back yard that needs a coat of paint every year or two.  Again:  cold, wind, the tiredness of being seventy.  All these things became "shoulds."  Day in, day out: "I should do this today."  "I really should get that done before long."  "Should" made me miserable.  It was part of why I had a love/hate relationship with spring this year--the other reason being the crazy wind.  "Should" reminded me of my incompetence, of my tiredness, of my lack of discipline, of time passing inexorably.  "Should" haunted my days and beat me up.

It took me longer to clean up the rose bed for the same reason.  We didn't have nearly enough snow cover this year, so a couple of my roses almost died back.  One calm evening I took my sucateurs, my gardening gloves, and the bushel basket I put garden waste into, out to my favourite rose. It's not one of those hybrid tea roses that suddenly goes "pfft!" into layers and layers of petals.  It has a single layer of large, calm, pale pink petals that are almost white.  It somehow makes me think of earlier times, of the calm I attribute to gardeners of the past who are disciplined and not haunted by "should."  And maybe who had less to do.  Gardeners who weren't trying to finish a novel and bring a prairie garden back from the dead and get rid of creeping bellflower.  I had seen, from a quick look, that this rose had been seriously damaged by the cold; I wasn't even sure how much of it was still alive.  But by the time I had gotten around to this "should" on my list, I could see that this rose was not only fine, but had put out buds.  If I had cleaned up the rose bed when I "should" have, I'd have cut it back drastically.  Screw "should," I thought to myself.

I tried to think of a single instance when saying "should" had actually gotten me into the garden.  Never.  It only made me miserable.  Rather, when I had finally gotten myself out, finally found a nice day and enough energy to sow seeds or convince the clematis that no, it didn't all have to grow in a big clump, that there was lots of room on the trellis for it to climb, I found great joy in my time outside. So when "should" is going to make me feel incompetent, lazy, or guilty; when it's going to put me at war with wind and grey and rain, I'm giving up on it.

There are enough real, meaningful "shoulds" in our lives right now.  We should wash our hands more often; Dr. Tam is recommending that we wear face masks to protect others.  We should keep our bubbles small--no big parties!  We should maybe get to know the people who really matter to us a little better.  And those people living on their own?  A phone call, at least.

The murder of George Floyd and other people of colour at the hands of police--particularly in the context of a pandemic that takes the lives of the poor so much more often than the lives of the privileged--has launched a plethora of "shoulds" into our society.  At the very least, we should all do whatever we can, whenever we can, to ensure that everyone we encounter is treated with dignity.  As I try to untangle these painful incidents--some of them in Canada ironically occurring during "wellness checks," all I can conclude is that there is too much distrust of people of colour;  they're always up to something and always present a threat.  And of course there's another layer of distrust of people who are struggling with their mental health.  Whenever we can challenge those conceptions, we should.  Maybe after the Coronavirus Pandemic is finally over, when we've all come out from behind our masks, behind the plexiglass, we should all remember that every one of us helped to "flatten the curve," and that many of those who bore the most responsibility were people of colour stocking the grocery shelves and checking us out, feeding our parents or grandparents at long term care homes.  They deserve a raise in the minimum wage, but just in case that's not forthcoming we can give them our trust.  We can use whatever political leverage we have--writing letters, voting for progressive candidates--to change the way our country is policed and the way the justice system treats people of colour.

We should be more green.  I'll just stop there:  you know how I can go on about this. 

These are important undertakings that we can only work on a step at a time, one meaningful step at a time. In the meantime, I need to spend more time in my garden watching the birdhouse a little wren goes in and out of a dozen times an hour.  I'm sure there are wrenlets in there and I'm trying to make myself innocuous enough that she might let see them learn to fly.

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