Tuesday, September 6, 2016

It's Not Always Pretty

What is our obsession with everything being perfect? Why do we feel we must hide those vulnerable parts of ourselves that aren't glossy, flawless, and magazine-worthy? 

The garden has been amazing therapy for me for a couple of years. The lessons I've learned in nature have been every part as valuable as what I've learned out and about in our consumer-driven society. I have control issues, I know this. I hate feeling out-of-control. I call it "feeling twirly". There are many things I can assert my dominance over- I control the cleanliness of my house, wiping and polishing any evidence of dirt away. I blow-dry, straighten, curl, and battle daily to get my hair into submission. Having a bad skin day? Concealer, foundation, and a layer of powder will solve that. 

But the garden? I can't control every aspect of it. There's no concealer for tomato blight, no foundation for lettuce and cilantro bolt, no powder that will halt the marigold spread in its tracks. Nature does not work that way. I still remember coming home from our Oregon trip in June of 2015 to find several issues in the garden and how upset I was. The first day home I walked around the raised beds with a knot in my stomach and an uncomfortably stress-tightened chest, lamenting the fact that my zucchini never took off after transplant, that my tomatoes had diseased, that a squirrel dug up all my lavender. As much as I wanted to have the magical touch that would cause my zucchini to implant and begin to grow, that's just not reality. It took days for the knot in my stomach to go away, for me to let go of the failure. 

Cucumber fruit that never grew, turned yellow, and died.
It's hard to relinquish that drive to control. I finally had to ask myself this:

Will it matter in 20 years that my 2015 zucchini plant did not grow? Will it even matter in 1 year? What about 1 month?

Really think about that. It won't. I probably won't even remember. And what will dwelling on my failure over and over again accomplish?


What remains of my potato plants...
I could spray my whole garden for pests. That would ensure the squash bugs don't stunt my zucchini. I could dump a pile of Miracle-Grow on it to supercharge its growth.

I could have perfect looking zucchini.  A shiny green exterior, un-pierced by the fangs of hungry insects. A gorgeous outer facade concealing the damage done by a human desire for refining absolutely everything natural in this world to our current standards of beauty and perfection. 

I would also have chemicals introduced to my garden soil. Chemicals that might affect it for years to come and cause 2017 zucchini plants not to grow. Chemicals that we have no idea what they do to the environment in the long-term. Chemicals that may or may not build-up in our bodies, interrupt our hormone systems, or cause an uncontrolled division of cells in abnormal cells of our bodies. These chemicals might leach into the rest of the yard after one of our torrential summer downpours. They might be ingested by a snake that happens to be eaten by a hawk. One bee might get coated in the stuff and carry it back to sicken the entire hive.

Dill killed after being whipped by a thunderstorm.
And for what? For that unblemished zucchini?

This seems crazy to me. Counterintuitive. Unsustainable.

Late blight on tomatoes.
I will keep trying until I figure out how to work with nature, not against. I don't care if I fail 1000 times, I will get there by that 1001 time. I used year-old straw to mulch my tomatoes this year, and I believe that's how most of my tomatoes got blight. Lesson learned. I will only use fresh straw from now on. I'll probably even mulch with something other than straw.

That might be common-sense to a lot of you gardeners out there, but I guess that's education I had to learn firsthand.

More blight.
A lot of people I've talked to had a rough garden year. I know I did. One person I talked to said they were so mad over their garden not producing that they were only going to grow herbs next year. 

And therein lies our problem. If we try and fail, a lot of times we give up. Going to my niece and nephew's sporting events, I see so many kids crying these days when they don't win. Saying they are going to quit because they lost, or leave the team because they aren't the star. It's perplexing to me. Losing is a valuable and necessary part of life. I mean, do you know anyone who has never lost something in life? I sure don't. How valuable would winning be if everyone won everything, every time?

That would be a rhetorical question right there ๐Ÿ˜œ

Cilantro that bolted, and promptly died.
So it was a rough year. So the worms ate half my tomatoes. Next year, I'll try different companion plants to see if they keep the bugs away. So my cilantro bolted after each planting this summer. Maybe we don't have the weather for cilantro here. Maybe I'll try growing it inside instead. So the marigolds spread and edged out my pumpkin and zucchini. Next year I won't plant them right in the raised beds. So it wasn't always pretty. I want to talk about it anyway. 

More and more mushrooms popped up everyday.
It's taken me 33½ years to get to the place I've finally realized that the not-so-pretty things in life are just as important as the pretty, and I'm not talking about people's looks. When I was younger and writing fictional stories, I only wrote the pretty. Happy, glossy characters living shiny, lustrous lives. Character flaws? I don't believe I ever wrote a hero or heroine with a blemished past or personality.

The happy and glossy has its place. But for the most part, that's not reality. 

An ant-devoured strawberry.
I'm tired of covering up. I'm tired of concealing the not-so-pretty. I'm tired of people only sharing the pretty while hiding anything real. I'm human and I am flawed. I will keep trying until I succeed and even when I fail. I'm going to fall, I'm going to make mistakes, and I'm going to get banged up.

It's not always pretty. But such is life ๐ŸŒŽ

*I did draw some inspiration from Alicia Key's essay on makeup, as it strongly resonated with me. Back to food later in the week! I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ


  1. Most Buddhists strive to achieve balance in their lives. Balance between joy and sorrow, light and dark, the natural world and man-made, sickness and good health. The goal is to realize the so-called negative things in life (that we have no control over) are always going to be present. Obsessing over them only makes the bad feelings more immediate and positive feelings more distant. In fact the Buddhist ultimate goal of nirvana is based on the belief that happiness can be achieved in this lifetime by understanding the perfect balance between opposing forces and the realization they are not only opposites but equals as well. Hatred, envy, selfishness, greed, and the like are caused by the mind not realizing this balance. Not easy, eh?
    Sounds like you're moving in the right direction!

    1. Well, that will give me something to think about. The last couple of years I've struggled to accept the things I cannot change. I have a feeling that the line that reads "happiness can be achieved in this lifetime by understanding the perfect balance between opposing forces and the realization they are not only opposites but equals as well" is something I'll be thinking about for quite a while ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Great post Jessica! Good food (pun intended) for thought.

    Enjoy your week, flaws and all.

    Love & hugs ~ FlowerLady

  3. You are certainly right, it can't all be perfect. And in a way that is part of the fun of it. The rotten tomatoes from too much rain (and those darn squirrels taking a bite and leaving the rest!), the bolted cilantro, the dry dill are all reminders to not take the good ones for granted. Besides, that dill will spread seeds and replant itself (and come up EVERYWHERE!) and so will the cilantro. Take pride in the winners, forget the losers and learn something new for next year!

    1. I actually have found little tiny dill plants growing outside the raised beds. I don't think they'll make it before the first frost, but it made me smile. Life and learning is amazing ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. What a wonderful and well thought out post Jessica! I'm a good 20 years older than you are and here is one of the things I have learned in life...it is because of the losses and flaws that we come to appreciate things and people even more. There is beauty in brokenness and our flaws make us who were are. We can learn much from the world around us and from our gardens.

    1. I agree Debbie, our losses do make us appreciate our wins all the more. I struggle with the beauty in our brokenness, but I know someday that I will just get it. I've been noticing that a lot lately. So much stuff I didn't understand when I was younger because I couldn't. Some lessons require age and wisdom, and I'll get there someday!

      Oh, and I read that women that garden live longer than women that don't! Viva la garden! ๐Ÿ˜

  5. You are so right! I just wish I could learn from the experiences this and past years. I always wish I would keep a journal of each years experience so I can look back next year and remember what we did right, or wrong. But, I can never seem to get to writing it down with a pencil, so I have been thinking about adding some of it to my blog. I think you just did give me the nudge I needed to do that!

    1. Oh, how I agree with this! I've thought so many times of starting a garden journal and I think it would have served me well! I find I do reference some of the blog stuff that I wrote about gardening though. It's something! ๐Ÿ˜€


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