With only a handful of weeks remaining in my Nieman fellowship, I’m all throat-lumpy about my impending goodbye to this place and these people I’ve come to love so much. A former fellow advised a while back: “You still have three months left! So you should think of it as the start of a three-month fellowship.” In other words, don’t obsess over how little time you have left, but focus on the abundance: Compared to my Real Workaday Life, where I get just four weeks of annual vacation, the fact that I still have three months off still lands me squarely in the catbird’s seat. Only now I’m down to just two.
So I’m making re-entry plans — gatherings I hope to have, stories I want to tackle, hikes I want to go on and gardening projects I want to undertake. Which brings me to the Blue Stick project I saw featured in an exhibit at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
“I heard about your little gardening idea,” my husband said recently, after my pal Janet let slip that I was plotting something similar of my own. “Interesting,” he added. “But how do you plan to pull that off?”
Paint, I said. And sticks.
“What kind of sticks?” he wanted to know.
The kind of sticks you paint!
For that matter, Captain Bring-Down: Does it matter if I actually undertake my own blue stick garden? Can’t a girl plot?
It was this time 21 years ago that Tom and I set out to cultivate our very first garden — vegetables, mostly, in the field in front of our rural Texas Hollow Road house. Tom got out the tape measure and marked off a space about the size of two refrigerators. Dorm-sized refrigerators.
I wanted half the field.
A “compromise” was reached. I got half the size I wanted, which was more than triple what Tom had in mind.
Then came the Colorado potato beetles. And the cutworms. The only thing that flourished was a gorgeous patch of okra, which neither of us really liked at the time.
Our gardening has morphed a lot, like our marriage. I respect those couples we know who run businesses together, but I honestly don’t get how they pull it of without calling Perkinson & Perkinson — a pair of divorce lawyers in town. (I can never remember if they’re actually married or not, but the Perkinsons’ office phone number is similar to ours and we frequently get calls for them. So it’s become part of our vernacular that we joke about calling them after arguments.)
We’re in sync over our duties with the kids, but when it comes to other creative endeavors it’s best when we divide and conquer: I do the cooking, he does dishes. I buy the materials for science fair projects, he oversees the experiments — and the tears. Where garden projects are concerned, he doesn’t comment on the money I spend at plant nurseries on account of: It’s still cheaper than therapy. Most of the time. (Here’s a tip: If you buy several flats of seedlings, unload some of them in the front yard and some in the back, thereby watering down his ability to calculate the total.)
Although our tenants are mowing the grass, I don’t expect them to do the weekly (sometimes daily) chores required of maintaining my garden in the spring — weeding, trimming the shrubbery, hauling away last year’s detritus. It’s the first April in two decades that my fingernails aren’t all broken and dirt-encased from working in the yard (and my hamstrings aren’t toast).
So I say let me have my blue stick garden for now — or at least let me imagine it. By the time we roll into town in late June, there’ll be enough maintenance work to keep me happily, busily digging for weeks on end, with or without the Frida Kahlo blue.
But, seriously, Frances: What do you think?!