June 4, 2012

A Vegetable Garden, and How It Relates to Unrealistic Expectations

We put in our vegetable garden this weekend, and I’m bit sunburned and a bit sore—but very happy. 

We put in a garden every year, but the last number of years my husband has been doing all the work.  He loves growing things and working in the yard, and all things being equal he would have loved to have been a farmer.  But this year I was struck by a bit of romanticism about it and was ready to pitch right in. We always had a garden when I was growing up on the ranch.

All gardens can be a bit challenging, but we have our own here in Laramie at 7,200 feet above sea level.  You’re not supposed to plant until June 1, and even then it can be iffy.  The growing season is three months at the outside.  You can’t grow melons or okra or sweet potatoes or pumpkins.  Corn’s a bit iffy, though you can get a few ears of the short-season variety.  You might think tomatoes are out of the question, but my husband has had really good luck with cages and walls-o-water.  We always get a good crop of tomatoes.  What we grow particular well are cole crops like lettuce and spinach and things like that.  In fact, there used to be lettuce farms here in the Laramie valley, apparently.

The kids and their grandmother put in some flowers that the kids chose into the planter on the porch.  Next weekend, I think I’ll work on the other flower and herb beds. 

I heard on NPR the other day that whenever a recession hits, people take to growing vegetables.  Makes sense.  But that implies that most of the time people don’t grow vegetables—not enough space, more concerned with flowers, too much effort involved, etc.  In my own case, it’s sometimes not a priority, and plus we’re members of a CSA farm, so we get vegetables every week from June to December. 

But that got me thinking about how that’s just another way we’re disconnected from the natural world.  We can go throughout our whole lives without being exposed to nature more than the walk from our house to our car and then from our car into work or school.

And then I was thinking about the metaphors that we take for granted. The metaphor we use the most nowadays is that of exponential growth.  In the financial arena, we should always get raises and businesses should build and everything goes on an upward trajectory.  In our personal lives, we should be improving ourselves and aiming ever higher.

All this upward seeking, though, creates ever higher expectations—and hence ever higher disappointments.  In the U.S., which arguably has the highest standard of living in the world, we are more frustrated and disappointed than people in less prosperous countries (see there, I almost said, “less advanced” and that in itself shows how the metaphor extends throughout our lives).

But if we all grew vegetable gardens, if we were all closer to the natural cycles of the earth, wouldn’t our basic metaphors change?  Wouldn’t it be the cycle of life and death, not the ever-increasing ledge of expectation?  And wouldn’t we be happier, then?

Potatoes, now there's a goal in life.

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