I’m a very clean person, but there’s something special about having dirt under your fingernails.
Usually I can’t stand having mess on my hands or under my nails. I don’t like having hot sun on me or bugs flying around my head. I spend most of my time in my basement with air conditioning and my laptop, trying to ignore the spiders that are always in the corners.
But when I’m in the garden I find myself able to tolerate a lot more. I don’t mind when my hands turn black from mud, or when there’s so much dirt under my fingernails that they’re permanently stained. I don’t mind when I find little bugs or spiders near my hands. I don’t mind when the sun is in my eyes or pushing at my back.
I don’t tend to call myself a gardener. I don’t like a lot of things about it. And I used to think that to say you enjoy something, you had to be in it wholeheartedly. That you couldn’t pick and choose which aspects of it you like. But that’s not true. You can love parts of something and still say you love the whole.
I may look at an overgrown garden bed and sigh at all the work that’s ahead of me, but nothing gives me as much satisfaction as struggling with a dandelion weed . . . only to feel it come loose underneath the pitchfork and pop right out, root and all.
When I’m in the garden I don’t even mind when the sun is in my eyes. Because I know what I will see when I look up.
I’ll see the sun coming through the leaves, all the veins and patterns clear as can be. It's always too beautiful to take a picture, and I find myself staring for a long time, trying to memorize the feeling that it gives me.
I’ll see the sun backlighting the little forest of sunflowers that have resiliently overtaken the garden beds. Light yellow, yellow and orange, and a deep red I didn't even realize sunflowers could have, all atop tall, leafy, impossibly-bright-green stalks.
I'll see the little bees that are crawling around and looking for food. Sometimes two or three will share a sunflower, trading spaces before flying off to find a new flower. The bees don’t care why I’m there, or what I'm doing. They just want to go about their business without being bothered.
Butterflies will land on nearby flowers or be startled out of the tall grasses that line the garden. Occasionally I'll see a monarch instead of a painted lady, and that always brings my work to a stop, and I find myself unable to move as I watch it drink.
Bright yellow finches will pick at the seeds that have fallen. Little green bugs will wander around the sunflower petals. Worms will come up to say hi before quickly disappearing again. So many animals will join me in my small, quiet garden.
So I don’t mind the small annoyances. Because when I actually stop and look up I find that those annoyances are really nothing at all, compared to what is right in front of my face.
I have a lot going on in my life right now. I have a lot of decisions to make. So many that sometimes I wake up feeling sick with anxiety before the day has even started.
And when I feel overwhelmed by these choices, I know it’s going to be hard for me to even get through my day with the pressure hanging over my head like Damocles' sword. These are the days when I skip breakfast, opting to go straight outside instead.
Usually the sun hasn’t reached the garden over the trees yet, and the grass is a little wet and the air a little chill. Sometimes I’ll see a bumblebee still sleeping in a flower, or a dewy spiderweb on the ground.
The first moment that I put my hands in the ground in my favorite. Because I can instantly feel weight off my shoulders. I feel grounded in a way I have never felt anywhere else. I'm disconnected from my life in the best kind of way.
Because what are my temporary, humanly choices when I can go to my garden and see it confidently doing what it’s always done?
I have one rule with myself when I garden: let my mind wander. One thing I've learned is that garden thoughts are unique. Things that I would stress over become so clear.
Usually my thoughts aren’t “productive”. Sometimes they’re just . . . thoughts. Things that don’t provide what some people would consider value.
But I also leave the garden feeling my mind isn’t quite as loud and cluttered as before. As if I only let the “useful” thoughts stick in my head, which made the “not useful” ones pile up like water behind a dam.
The anxieties I had never bother me much after I leave. I may not have left with an answer, but I left with a grounded peace that made those worries not quite so worrisome.
It’s hard to describe in words the feeling that I get from gardening. Peaceful, quiet, content, grounded – these are all close adjectives, but these alone don't give you overwhelming feeling that my hobby gives me.
Truly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully express how much better off I am since I started gardening. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually – I don't want to think about where I would be if I'd never found the safe space in my messy, weedy, wonderful garden.
It’s my sincerest wish that everyone finds this kind of light in their life.