Late on the afternoon of March 30, 2020, I threw a bag stuffed with work notes and office supplies into my car and got ready for the drive home. As I peeled out, navigating the parking lot potholes by memory, I glanced back at the building where I spent my forty work hours a week, wondering when or if I’d be back. The world was in the midst of a pandemic, and I would begin “working remotely” the next day. Three and a half months later, I’m still at my home computer, “working remotely” and efficiently performing my day job. I am a load scheduler for a trucking company, and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds. All kidding aside, I work with great people, and at a time when so many folks are struggling I’m very grateful to have a job considered essential.
I remember talking with one of my coworkers that last day, thinking out loud really, trying to explain what had me so weirded out about the whole thing. It wasn’t so much the fear of getting sick, I told her, but it was the feeling of losing control of day to day life, and not having the vaguest idea what would happen next. Now, three months plus later, in the midst of one of my annual annoyances, a July heatwave, I’m still uneasy, still wondering where the hell the world is going in general, and this county in particular. If I was rattled at the end of March, I’m positively gobsmacked here in July.
It’s hard to divorce one’s self from the day to day realities of what we are currently experiencing. I suppose there are those who can compartmentalize it and go about their business. Not me. I knew back in late May when I had the first panic attack I’ve had in years that I needed a distraction. The obvious solution was to get busy with my next book. I tried but it wasn’t working. Fictional Porterfield, Indiana and the saga of handyman Ed Stephens has always been a good destination when I’ve been disgusted with Real Life. This time, though, the realities of 2020 kept distracting me from Ed’s life in the 1980’s. Our weird present was distracting me from what was suppose to distract me from the present. I needed something else, so I started a garden.
It wasn’t an intentional decision. It all started just after Memorial Day when my friend Tim texted me and asked if I wanted some of the hibiscus plants he and his husband Matt had thinned out of their yard. The idea of something blooming in the backyard appealed, so I told him yeah, bring ’em over.
I wouldn’t call myself a gardener. There have been times in my life when I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in working the dirt and growing things, and long periods where I couldn’t care less. The past few years qualify as a “couldn’t care less” era, and the amazing variety of weeds growing in the backyard flower beds proved it. So, after Tim delivered the plants I got busy and cleared away a corner, pulling weeds, ripping out vine roots, and moving rocks about. I was pleased with the result. Why stop with this? I thought as I looked at the remaining weed-choked beds. You might just be surprised at what you find under the mess.
That’s when it hit me. This was the distraction I needed from a world in chaos: A little patch of pretty in my own yard. For the next couple of weeks every break from work in my upstairs study found me in the yard pulling and cutting and quietly chiding myself for letting the beds get so neglected. There were indeed some lovely ground cover perennials, but nothing that would produce colorful summer flowers. I was going to have to invest in some bedding plants, and maybe some seeds.
That thought immediately sent my mind back fifty years to Park Elementary School and the box of seeds we were given to sell each spring. The last two of those years my mom and I keep most of the seed packets and planted them in our own garden. Just thinking of those cheerful blooming flowers — morning glories, nasturtiums, and zinnias — got me in motion. I tied my face mask and took off for the nearest garden center.
Now, in early July, the bedding plants I purchased are doing well. It’s a joy to get up in the morning and see their bright colors as I make my daily inspection. The seeds have sprouted, but since I got a late start with them it will still be awhile before I see any blooming action. I make sure they have plenty of water (a major issue in this current climate change heatwave we’re dealing with) as I cheer them on. “Grow, little plants, grow!”
I call it my “Covid-19 Garden.” I doubt very much I would be doing this if I had to leave home for work every day, so really the pandemic gets the credit for getting me moving. And in some ways it is a definite reaction to wide spread illness and death, the racial issues that anger me and break my heart at the same time, and mostly assuredly a response to a country’s leader so vile he stands only for the things I despise about our nation. The world is burning, but I’m not ready to throw myself into the flames. Not yet. I won’t, not when I have bright, blooming flowers to anticipate in my own backyard. As long as I — WE — have something positive to look forward to, spending time doing the activities that nourish our souls as much as our bodies, we’ll be okay. Hang in there. No, I won’t say we are all in this together. That’s a corporate message with little meaning. I mean hang in there. It doesn’t have to be graceful; just get through it, and hopefully those of us left will come out stronger and wiser than we were.
This buried gem is essentially a rip off of Scott MacKenzie’s “San Franciso (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” However, if you listen to it independent of the hippie moment in which it was created, you hear a lot of optimism and hope. I’m all for that these days.