I’m learning how to garden. We’ve lived in the house for a year now and we’re finally starting to look at the backyard and envision what we want for it. Each Sunday, we spend a couple of hours out there with Harry, our son, while our daughter, Eva, takes a nap. We pull out old plants, turn over the soil, step back, think about what could go where.
The other day, we went to the nursery to pick out a tree. There is a section of the garden that needs a windbreak – the Cape southeaster (a wind like no other) howls across our back lawn – and so we decided to plant a tree that would grow tall and strong against the wind.
Choosing a tree is hard. You think 10, 20 years out. Where will it go? Evergreen or deciduous? Vertical or horizontal growth? Winter sun or summer shade?
What will this garden look like when this tree grows big?
What will we look like when this tree grows big?
Part of me is frustrated by the process. It takes so long. I don’t know anything about gardening. Each stage has to be learned, absorbed and considered. It’s the opposite of efficient. Part of me wants to hire a landscaping company who will come and lay it all out for me – throw a design on paper, truck in the topsoil, install some mature plants. By the end of the summer, we could be sipping our cocktails on the back porch.
And then I discover something – like the arc of the sun in the new season, or a root that has made its way under the flower bed. I realize that this is a process for the long-term. By planning my own garden, I am literally learning “the lay of the land”.
When you think about things in 10-year, 20-year cycles, you approach them differently. You take the time to think about them. You don’t rush. You don’t feel like everything has to happen right now. You revise, you tweak, you test, you experiment. These activities are not wasteful, because they give you experience, they let you build your artistry – one element at a time.
When you are doing something for the long term, you don’t project plan. Sure, you have goals and expectations, but you don’t know what eventualities will occur, so you have to accommodate the unexpected.
Progress is non-linear, because you (your needs, your knowledge) change along the way.
When you are doing something for the long-term, you sometimes have to go backwards in order to move forward. You often make mistakes that don’t reveal themselves until they have played themselves out. It feels frustrating – it is frustrating – but that frustration is a critical component of the process.
The frustration is the fuel for your fire.
The frustration will sometimes make you tear everything down in order to inspect the foundation – and then start building again.
When you’re building a life and making important decisions, you allow yourself the time to make mistakes….to have quality conversations…to invest in learning….to tear things apart and build better.
* * *
It’s now been a few months since we selected our tree. It is still a small sapling, standing brave in the wind. One day I noticed that several of the branches had turned yellow. I called my mother-in-law in distress. (She is a gardener of note and has managed to turn many of our bare, brown patches of garden to green.)
My MIL listened to my stress and asked me to look closer. “Do you see any small shoots near the dying branches?”
Yes, yes I could. They were pushing on the yellow branches and eagerly turning tiny green leaves to the sun.
“Those new shoots are replacing the old. They push the dying branches out of the way and take over. That is how the tree grows.”
* * *
I struggle a lot with this. It’s particularly hard when you are not sure about the outcome. The process of creative destruction is nerve-wracking, even more so when the investment in what exists has been significant.
But I’m working on it. I’m trying hard not to expect things to happen overnight. I’m reminding myself to enjoy the process, that the journey is the important bit.
After all, the building of a life takes a lifetime.
What small step will you take toward your future today?