In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
– Margaret Atwood
This condo is my Taj Majal. I first stepped over the threshold on the eve of Thanksgiving 2012, and knew in a breath it was home. Honeyed bamboo floors, a wide open great room, blocks away from a park and Bug’s school. It took seven months to fight through the short sale until they handed me the pen at closing. That day in June is among the sweetest of my life.
Even so, through the giddiness, one regret tugged.
Condo living means no square of earth to line with stones and bury the bulbs through winter.
Every place I’ve lived since packing out of the college dorm two decades ago has had a little place to grow pole beans and bachelor’s buttons. Even if it was just a swath of grass in the back of a shared house, I would find a way to urge things from the dirt: snapdragons, vinca, tiger lilies dug up from the nearby creek bed. When living in a city apartment, I not only planted a small sun-burst shaped herb garden behind the driveway with my housemate, I shared a plot at the community garden down the road with one of my farmer friends.
This condo is a dream with sunny, west-facing windows and smiling neighbors. But it has no yard at all. Its only outdoor space is a teeny-tiny balcony looking out over a shrubby berm and the I-66 sound wall.
We’re now coming up on our second year here. Houseplants spill from all the corners and keep us breathing green through cold season. In fall or spring I might go to my Mister’s and help him rake or pull weeds. Shared labor is one hallmark of the Us we are becoming, and while sweating alongside him on his quarter acre binds us together, it does little to tie me to his land. I come home to a bare balcony and a hunger for plunging my hands into the soil at my own feet. Gardening’s decadence comes from tending a plot of one’s own — or one’s own circle, as the case may be.
This year, I looked out on the balcony and thought, It would be so nice if. . .
But I can’t.
No time, no money, never done it, don’t know how.
Except that this is a bunch of hooey. My son pours the same whine when he’s toiling away at fractions and decides to give up. He collapses in a heap, wailing, “It’s too hard! I can’t do it!”
I guide him back to his chair and say, “You can’t do it yet because you haven’t learned it yet. You can do it as soon as you learn it, and you absolutely CAN learn it. I’m going to help you.”
So I do, and so he does.
This is the season of Courage to Change the Things I Can. I won’t grow a thing if I come up with a dozen reasons why it’s too hard. Indeed, trusting I can pull it off is the first critical step in pulling it off. This Things I Can project keeps reminding me that every damned thing is hard until it’s easy. Which means it’s hard for the hundredth time, it’s hard for the 9,000th hour. It’s hard until the skills become automatic. Even then? It may still be hard.
Hard and Can’t share some notable features but they happen to be different species.
You can’t do it yet because you haven’t learned it yet. You can do it as soon as you learn it, and you CAN learn it.
In March, we bought a stash of seed packets and organic potting soil. Bug donned safety goggles and drilled holes through yogurt containers. We sowed, misted, nurtured, and cheered. We mourned a batch and started those over. We stocked up on Goodwill trash cans and old busted tupperware from the backs of our cabinets. I splurged on herb starts, pansies, and window planters from the nursery.
Now it’s May. Our garden thrives.
It brings me a step closer to doing the same.