Running these days through the comfortable neighborhoods of West Hollywood has made me nostalgic for the garden I left last year. During the divorce and subsequent dislocation, I didn’t let myself miss my garden much. My enthusiasm for the garden waned for a while after the dog was planted in it, and for a number of months it was good to get away from that hole in the ground.
But it was my garden. When I’d moved in, I didn’t expect to be moving out again. Moving three dozen times is enough for any person. I’d be able to see trees I planted grow tall, I thought.
One did, but it blew over in a storm on my birthday the year I left.
So I’ve been running past nice gardens, and envying the people who tend them, and resenting that envy, and wondering if I’ll ever trust my life enough again to grant myself the blithe relaxing into a place I decide will be my home. Half a century of never settling is a pretty good indication that the remainder of my allotted time probably won’t be any different, you know?
Gardening used to be part of my identity. I was a garden writer: tens of thousands of people used to read my ruminations on my garden every two weeks. These days I have one plant, a palm, and it’s not looking all that great. Most of last year it wasn’t an issue. I had no garden, aside from the three carnivorous plants I failed to keep alive in my zero-percent humidity shack, but I had the desert. I had Cima Dome and the Ivanpah Valley, I had the McCullough Range and Wee Thump, and I had Joshua trees and creosote and single-leaved piñon and red barrel cactus, I had datura lining the roads to bloom beneath a full moon, and my lacking a garden seemed beside the point.
I lack the desert mostly these days. I’m not really complaining. The Mojave is less than an hour’s drive from here aside from traffic, which is less time than it took me to get to work in North Beach for most of the last decade. I went last weekend and I’m going this weekend.
But there are these gardens here, and I run past them, and I admire them, and I have no garden myself.
The Raven feels bad about this, and tells me we need to be somewhere where I can have a garden. It’s a nice thought. Every once in a while she’ll point out a community garden plot, and I make a mental note to call about space. But there’s something about walking out the backdoor and being there. The ex-is giving away some of the accoutrements of the backyard garden, sensibly enough as I’ve left them there for more than a year and she doesn’t want them and I have no place to put them, and my brother now possesses the smoker our dad gave me ten years ago. He asked what kinds of wood he could use, and I had to think for a while. I rarely bought wood for the smoker. It was all in the yard already: seasonal prunings from the Asian pear and cherry trees, dropped wood from the live oak. Now and then I would saw off an entire trunk of the upright rosemary, grown rampant over five years, and feed it into the smoker in sections over a few hours. Chicken smoked with new-cut rosemary wood and sage leaves is a remarkable thing. The conversation set me off down a melancholy path. Will I ever be in a place long enough to grow a rosemary to that size again?
For the last few months I have been toying with the idea of publishing my garden writing. I put it out in e-book form a few years back, and a handful of kind people bought copies. Surely, I have been thinking, the essays that were in that e-book, written over more than a decade, would find some readers in dead tree form. And then I remember editing the Zeke book, having to put it aside after every page or so for the memories the work stirred up. I do not mourn the gardens so fiercely. But my happiness these days is hardly what I would call robust, and The Raven has been persuading me bit by bit that dwelling on sadness rarely makes it lessen. So I have considered re-editing the garden book, and then I remember another small herb or shrub or bulb that I nurtured in those gardens that I will never see again, part of a life that has ended with characters in it that are with me no more, and I put the task off for another few weeks.
Today I found some resolve. That might have been because Thistle is here with me: another refugee from the same garden. We’ve found some cameraderie, some solidarity, some understanding. He was as much a part of the garden as any tomato plant or clematis, and with him here I feel like I haven’t lost the whole place. I didn’t have to face the work alone, I thought. It was time, I thought, to get the work out of the way, send the book off and get it printed. I found a copy of the page layout document, opened it up.
It opened to the passage quoted below, from a humorous piece on snails.
Once collected, what the heck do you do with them? Squishing a single snail is repulsive: squishing a bucketful is unthinkably vile prospect. Driving them to the hills to release them is a bad idea. Salting kills them, but where can you put a cubic foot of salted snail that won’t kill your garden plants? I do enjoy the taste of escargot, and once thought out loud to my wife that I’d feed my captured snails cornmeal for a couple weeks in order to clean their digestive tracts, then cook them. She allowed as how it was a sensible idea and suggested I start right after our divorce.
Maybe I’ll try again in six months.