January 8, 2013 by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
Last year, when I lived in an apartment who’s building configuration pretty much eliminated the chance of any five inches of space getting more than three minutes of sun at a time, and I dreamed of having at least another bucket garden (which didn’t happen), I bought Karel Čapek‘s The Gardener’s Year. I was doing a lot of gardening-essay reading at the time. It was the closest I could come to the satisfaction of growing things—living vicariously through the writing of others. And, though I haven’t read the work he’s most famous for (Rossum’s Universal Robots), I had been enamored with his satirically dystopian War with the Newts (which I absolutely recommend).
Once I realized that even a bucket garden wasn’t going to be feasible in the last place, I put away all my gardening essay books. I was not only living through those books, I was hoping they were just tiding me over. When it turned out that there’s was nothing to tide over to, they just became depressing.
Now, however, there is definitely a garden in our future, so I found The Gardener’s Year and flipped through it. It’s a very slim volume; approximately 115 pages, and it goes through the months of the year, with other essays in between. It would probably take me one relaxing, International-coffee-drinking afternoon to leisurely read it from front to back. To that, I say, “bah!” I decided to take the whole year to read it, month by month, and see how much of Čapek’s gardening experience is universal as I become acquainted with and work my own garden.
In The Gardener’s January, we “cultivate the weather.” We worry as to how our plants will overwinter and no forecast is good—too little snow, too much, or none at all. All bad. Basically, we spend all of our time whinging on about things we have no control over (I think this is going to be a theme, no matter the season) without the means to even do something that gives us the illusion that we’re doing something. We decide cold weather is the best time to till the soil and we break all of our tools, but at least we feel like we’ve done something.
I can say that I’ve definitely had this urge. Half of my garden space is still covered with last year’s plants, brown and sticking up out of the snow like a miniature burnt-out forest. Now that the big snows have come, this feeling has gone, but up until the first few inches, I had this gnawing sense that I should get out there and try to pull up the rest of the plants to make way for the new garden in the spring. In my head, I’m thinking, well, it doesn’t really matter if I do it now or later. And that’s true. But I’m also thinking, you’re going to be so busy come spring, you’re going to wish you’d done this. This is probably equally true. *sigh* In the end, I couldn’t stand the cold, and so I didn’t get out there. Yes, that makes me a pansy.
I think I would have, though, if the garden plot was sitting right outside our windows. I do see it every day when I walk up to feed and water Murray, and I always stop and stare at it for a few minutes before I head back down. But, as it is, there is a yard and a big barn between the house and the garden, so it doesn’t haunt me every waking moment. I can’t just look outside the window, from the safety of my radiator heating and jammers. No, to look at it—to see it and contemplate it—requires a trek out onto the snowy wasteland that is our property. Yes, I’m a pansy.
In the essay before his January entry, How a Man Becomes a Gardener, Čapek writes:
Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart.
I’m not there yet, but I’m in anticipation of it. Right now, in this cold and white January, my relationship with my garden feels like a long-distance correspondence with someone with whom I am falling in love, but whom I’ve never met in person. You can’t quite know for sure until you’ve measured how your character interacts with theirs, how your movements tally together. I’m looking forward to the day when my garden walks through the door and I recognize him from his pictures, and I can begin to see if he really does match the images in my head. I think he will, and he won’t, and I’ve had worse relationships based on more. What I don’t anticipate is giving up because it’s not a perfect match. Maybe when I was twenty, but, as in our relationships, as we mature, we discover that imperfection is really the key to living, and we learn to make things work.