Growing up in Virginia my parents always had a lovely garden. They still do, actually. Every year they compost and dig and plant and in the summers appear beautiful tomatoes, beans, eggplants, lettuce and lots of other things. I wasn't much into digging in the dirt when I was a kid though, so when I moved into my first house with Mike in Los Angeles back in 1999 and wanted to start a garden, my parents were a little surprised. But for me, it made it really feel like home. I now had a house and a husband; I felt grounded, and so maybe, the ground called to me.
Mike wasn't much into digging in the dirt either. But he said if I planted hot peppers, which he loved, that he would help me. So we dug out the grass in the back yard and planted all the things we wanted to eat together. I still remember him picking a ripe cherry bomb pepper, taking a bite off the end and declaring it delicious and rather sweet and wouldn't I like to try it; me, not so much. I was afraid of the heat but he insisted it wasn't that hot. Of course the nibble I took also included a few seeds and my mouth exploded into fire! I ran to the garden hose and tried to put it out. He felt bad but we both laughed a long time about that one.
The first few years in Hawaii we were busy running our small business, but after we closed it I decided to get back out and try growing vegetables again. Once again he got out there with me to help me dig out the grass for additional plots. It was a lot of work but I spent several glorious years happily covered in dirt. It was never a huge success due to the drought and the terrible pests here (not just white fly and aphid and brown rot but wild turkeys we have walking and pecking and rolling in the dirt and eating all your plants and sometimes very loudly, suddenly and awkwardly flying all over our neighborhood in the tallest trees), but we did eat from it quite a bit. It's always a little magical watching things sprout from tiny seeds and then becoming something edible and delicious.
At some point we also decided to keep chickens. Since I used to build things during my stint in Hollywood I was no stranger to tools, so I designed a coop and went off to buy the materials. After Mike saw my plans and the wood and chicken wire laid out in our driveway, he said it would be too rickety. He teased me playfully, saying I was a hack because I only built things to last a few days on a set, not long term. I insisted it would work, even though we used a lot of staples and zip ties.
Mike sure loved our chickens. He loved all birds, actually. He used to hold them and talk to them. After he died one of the saddest sounds was the crowing of our rooster each morning. Lorenzo was a beautiful Japanese silky Mike simply adored. But not only did it break my heart every day seeing them out there now that he was gone, it became a burden to care for it all on top of the grief. The garden, the chickens...it was Mike who fed them each morning (as well as the turkeys, of course, who seemed to know very well in which house the nice man with the chicken feed lived), and bought and carried those heavy bags of feed...months later I finally decided it was time to let them go. The local animal shelter helped me find a farm that would take them. Eating them was never an option for us.
Since he died the garden has also been left fallow. I just haven't had the heart, or the energy, to go out there anymore. A few hearty plants have endured - New Zealand spinach and collard greens, some rosemary and nasturtium, seem to love it here and never stop growing. There are still the fruit trees too, which is an amazing thing about living here. But everything else is gone. All the tomato cages and pots and turkey fences and tools have sat there, piled up and collecting weeds. The chicken coop sat empty and forlorn.
Every time I looked out there it made me sad. I would remember all the hours I spent in our little backyard farm; the excitement of the daily eggs or a bumper crop of eggplant, or the disappointment of bolted lettuce. All the meals I cooked for Mike with our meager bounties. So out it goes now. I've spent the past week tearing down the coop and organizing the useful bits for an ad on Craigslist. It's been not only backbreaking, but heartbreaking. Another thing to change since he's gone.
I did find myself smiling when I struggled to dismantle the coop. My "hack job" had secured the pieces together so well it took me hours to take apart for removal. Laboring out there in the sun this past week or two I have found myself talking to Mike, teasing him back that it turns out I did a darn fine job, thank you very much.
I could have asked for help, I know. I have dear friends who would read this and reply they would have been here in a jiffy, had I only called...I know. But I wanted to do it myself. It seemed important, somehow. To be out there in that space where I spent so many hours happily growing, knowing Mike was often only a few hundred feet away, maybe practicing his archery in the front yard. I was the one who bought the seeds, researched organic means of pest control, pulled the weeds. I transformed it from the start - Mike helped, but it was my baby. So I needed to be the one to physically transform the space this next time too. To be alone with the memories, and my husband, on our little plot of land.
Gardening is a lovely and important occupation. I do believe strongly that people should be digging up their grass in favor of edibles. And I will always treasure the memories of Mike in our garden. But I just can't muster the energy or desire for it any longer at this house without him, and I need to be nurturing the seeds of a new life instead for awhile. I'll be keeping some of the tools because if I end up moving, maybe I'll start fresh somewhere else. For now, though, it's just the end of an era.