A farewell to artichokes

The way I tell it, Eleanor and I had a prenuptial agreement that we would never leave the area of southern New England where I had a reasonably thriving general-contracting business. But she came to me one frigid New England day and said she wanted to move south. She couldn’t get warm in the winter after having borne a second child, and she wanted to live in a milder climate. I ignored her ranting for a year. We argued for a year. And then we ended up down here.

When we moved, I didn’t really mourn the separation from good friends in southern New England, because I’d previously left Colorado to move to Rhode Island, and notwithstanding Father Time and Mother Distance, I still have dear friends there too. I do greatly miss fresh seafood, though I didn’t mourn the loss of it, either, when I migrated to the Land of Redeye Gravy and Creasy Greens.

But I definitely lamented upon leaving the garden where I’d nurtured the soil, watched my kids dig their first potatoes, and achieved my first full-winter successes in extended-season gardening. I grieved its loss, experiencing actual physical changes in facial structure and posture that caused friends to pull me aside at parties or when we ran into each other at the local coffee stop to implore me to lighten up a little bit. But how in the heck can you lighten up when you’re leaving a piece of your soul behind?

When it became clear that we were actually leaving Rhode Island, it took me about six months to get over it and come back to something like my usual self. Even so, part of what pulled me out of my malaise is the fact that at the end of those six months, I started a new garden about halfway up Reems Creek, here in God’s Country. It’s hard to maintain a serious mourn when you’re planting a bed of asparagus — especially during those heady, early weeks of new love.

And now it’s all happening once again. Our current commute to Asheville for the kids’ schools, my work, teenage soccer and cross-country practices, and a whole slew of other reasons have led us to conclude that living closer to Asheville is a good idea. And it’s definitely going to happen, because our offer was just accepted on a house in North Asheville. I agree with the reasoning behind the move: It does make sense logistically. And I’m not anguishing over the loss of the incredible views from every spot on our current property, though I’ll certainly miss them. I wonder how I’ll manage without the serene woods behind the house, but I’m not mourning that loss, either. All the same, I find myself moving with a definite sense of lethargy these days — the direct result of leaving soil that I’ve nurtured and coaxed (with organic matter and love) for the past 10 years. And for the time being, that is as it should be.

There’s more to organic gardening than merely planting something and then watching it grow. It’s an interactive process in which the gardener becomes a vigorous participant in the Wheel of Life. The quality of the soil and the variety of its microscopic inhabitants matter. The multiplicity of plant material is important. The diversity of bug life attracted to that diverse plant life is significant. And the gardener is, too. The gardener, however, isn’t God but rather part of a team. And I think that’s why I’m mourning at the moment. Because I’m not just leaving a piece of real estate: I’m leaving the team that I have worked, argued and exalted with over the past 10 years.

Now don’t get me wrong. My life is not the garden right now; currently, it’s made up of 60 hours a week of work, and after the spousal sharing of duties, it doesn’t leave time for the garden. In fact, I’ve been reduced to asking my gardening pal Jeremy French to keep the weeds down in the pathways between beds and tune up as he sees fit when he’s mowing my lawn.

Despite my low level of involvement, however, the soil has the benefit of years of attention and organic matter. Earlier this spring, I deferred to planting vigorous perennials such as hyssop, mint and yarrow instead of summer veggies, knowing I wouldn’t have the time to care for finicky food crops. Right now, they’re raging furiously in the good soil, alongside echinacea, Saint Johnswort, sage and the many other perennials that have slowly been taking over veggie space during the last few years. Last spring’s broccoli and lettuce have gone to seed, and I’ve left them — looking Spartanlike and rangy and enticing — to the local beneficial-insect population. But my engagement with the soil remains total. It’s a weird thing to even try to verbalize, because there’s no phonetic equivalent for these feelings.

Still, there is redeeming value in moving on; and the end of this garden is the segue to the new one in North Asheville. For now, the new garden exists only in my head. It won’t look like the previous gardens I’ve started, because my needs and interests are different now. But I know it will feel the same, because I’ll be assembling a new team of similar players to join me in my next great gardening adventure.

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