I find myself walking across sun-drenched fields alone with the dogs and overcome with feelings of freedom and elation I can’t recall experiencing too often.
Through the vineyards, with green in every direction, I wonder when exactly I awoke to the joy of being outside.
My mother was a dedicated gardener. The long narrow patch behind the house in which I grew up often appeared chaotic but it was chaos made from love, expertise, and knowledge.
We miss the dead at unpredictable times and it’s a sadness to me that my mother can’t see the majesty of my unruly honeysuckle or tell me why I’ve killed countless lavender plants.
I don’t know exactly what my mother got from her garden but I have come to realise that so much of the activity in my little patch of earth appears to be a metaphorical reflection of my life.
My irritation at the neighbours’ inadequate fence and my attempts to grow large shrubs along the border so that I don’t have to see them let alone talk to them a reminder of a growing need for solitude and privacy the older I get. (I’ve just planted hornbeam so that ought to do it).
My enthusiasm for growing vegetables from seed, turning the back bedroom into a makeshift greenhouse, wanes as the ground thaws leaving me looking at withered beans I planted too early and abandoned. An indication of how hard I find it to maintain focus and attention over a long period or how easily I can be seduced by a new pursuit (Think, “Mr Toad” but without the penchant for danger).
I bought a cantilever sunshade to protect us from the harshest of the heat on the south-facing decking but wherever I place it I can never seem to quite keep out the sun.
Consequently, I can never be comfortable for an extended period of time while I pot on the tomatoes that have made it through to June despite my negligence, or sit with a cup of coffee watching the blackbird through my binoculars hoping that the people in the flats don’t think I’m looking at them and decide to call the police.
I’m never sure about feeling comfortable for extended periods of time anyway. Doesn’t it mean you’re not pushing hard enough?
I remember my mother once in conversation with my distraught sister, then in the midst of her own catastrophic period of poor mental health.
“Nothing feels like it’s fun,” my sister said.
My mother scoffed dismissively, berating such a shallow desire.
I would have said that none of that stuck, but it almost certainly did.
When the hinge broke on the back gate I left it for months, procrastinating to avoid the feeling I imagined would accompany trying to fix it, getting it wrong, and finding that the gate would now not only open but wouldn’t close either.
A garden, and a willingness to engage with it, illustrate the distinction between having control and the point at which control must be relinquished.
I can plant the seeds and plan for the harvest but the slugs and snails may have other ideas.
There are no guarantees, so it’s best to live in the moment and enjoy whatever is happening today.
Maybe that’s why I felt so euphoric walking through the fields with the dogs. The vines might thrive or fail but neither outcome will have been at my hand so I am free to enjoy whatever emerges safe in the knowledge that I will be able to handle it either way.
This is, essentially, the way to deal with anxiety. Control what you can, and surrender the rest to nature.
So I fixed the gate.
At least I can now take out the garden bin which, in a few months will probably be full of disappointing beetroot failures and fennel bulbs that didn’t grow any bigger than the peas. Still, being outside, whatever happens, is better than not.