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Five minutes a day

The lack of a real winter this year disturbs me. I keep holding out hope that the jet stream will turn our direction and deliver an arctic blast that will last a few weeks. Time is getting short. March is just around the corner. With each day’s passage, my dream of a good, snowy and frigid winter diminishes.

DryThere are a couple of reasons I bemoan the lack of a decent, teeth-chattering winter. For one, I love the cold. I’m glad to live in a place with four distinct seasons. It’s going to be hot this summer. I will celebrate the pavement-pounding heat that July brings. But for this moment, I want a winter like w had in 2011. That winter it snowed and snowed. I remember getting back from two weeks in Berlin on January 18. It started snowing that day. We had over a foot. Snowed stayed on the ground on and off until well into March.

There’s something beautiful about the city in the snow. The hush that falls over the urban streets at night brings a solitude with it that exists regardless of the amount of traffic or people on the sidewalks. Snow muffles the whine of tires on pavement. Where people would say hello to each other, there come knowing glances from beneath parka hoods. People hold scarves close to their throats. Things move in slow motion. The doormen at downtown hotels almost bounce like astronauts on the surface of the moon.

The smells of the city in winter enrapture me. Snow has an odor, something between rain in the summer and the cold of a freezer. The air seizes in the nose. Homeless people build fires on the bluff and the neighborhood smells of wood smoke. Diesel fumes spill into the crevices. Everything smells like wet limestone, asphalt pavement, and punky wood.

My garden is another reason I miss a good, hard winter. I haven’t planted my garden the last couple of years. Lack of motivation and plenty of other things to do have taken my time. But I used to have a garden every year. I loved the produce I harvested. I saw how the wildlife–the opossums, raccoons, and fox used my produce before I could get to it. I bought cayenne to sprinkle on the things I wanted to keep.

Keeping a garden a couple of years, I noticed how much easier it was to keep a garden in a year when snow and cold dominated the winter. The cold, especially the normal three-week January cold snap freezes out the bug and fungus. It limits the rabbit population. The snow lends plenty of water to the soil, so that the spring planting can take off off on its own, without my having to water. Without the snow, the soil stays dry. We have had a couple of rainy days this winter. Rain runs off. Snow lets the water stay long enough to seep into the soil. That’s what I need in the garden as in life: seep.

tomato-plantsI plan on planting a garden this year. Just a couple of tomato and jalapeno pepper plants. If I get the gumption, I might do some early season plants, like peas—which taste like ambrosia plucked and eaten right in the garden—and lettuce. Tomatoes fresh out of the garden beat the hell out of factory-made, plucked-green tomatoes from the produce aisle. Jalapenos taste great burning my mouth either fresh from the garden, and even better, canned with vinegar and garlic.

Already I have begun my outdoor planning. Starting this weekend, I will prune the grapevines, a thankless job that doesn’t take as much time as it seems. The scorpion tangles of vines, wrapped up in big wads and packed into the back of my daughter’s pickup (used to be mine) will go to the city mulch pile, as will all the detritus from the rain garden, if I don’t burn it. (I burned it last year and so should go this year without.)

After I get the vines pruned, I will tie them up so that they will grow in disciplined, respectable ways this year. I might even get motivated and put up netting when the grapes begin to ripen to keep the birds off. It would be nice to have a good crop of grapes for juice and jelly.

Besides vines to tend, I have part of an eight-foot terrace wall to repair. It fell last spring in the heavy rains we had. For several weeks, an hour or two each day, I dug the rock out of the dirt that slid down behind the stone. I stacked the rock but for some reason never finished it. Getting that job done won’t take but a couple more hours.

Then, there’s just general upkeep. I have to repair the roof of the hut, it’s galvanized steel panels keep coming off the roof in stiff wind. In five years, I’ve never gotten it right. I asked Nick if we should keep the hut for another year or start to dismantle it and give the wood up on Craigslist. He insists that he wants to fix the roof and the floor so he can spend the night out there sometimes. To me, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. But when we built the thing—basically an insulated wood room about eight feet square—he played in it all the time. He has changed and the things he wants out of it have too.

It’s a small yard and these are small tasks. A couple of good days of work will fix it all up. An hour or two every couple of weeks mowing and picking up the dog poop will be enough to keep it.

Right now, however, the backyard and garden trouble my mind. They act like pin pricks in the middle of the night. The worm turns. I think about the wall coming down again. Rain leaks through the hut roof. The garden sits weedy and overgrown. I have become old, it tells me. I don’t have the energy or the motivation I used to.

The entropy of the garden and yard stand as metaphors for my life. I can reorganize if I want. I can make that determination to spend five minutes every day in the garden. That’s all it will take. I think I can take my cup of tea up there and hoe the weeds, keep the aisles clear, and keep things pruned. So little time. So much pay off.

Hey, I know that my life is easy. I don’t have to go from food pantry to food pantry for my living. Anything that has to do with house upkeep and gardening is luxury.

So, I complain about winter and think about my near future. A couple days of work and then five minutes every day or every other day. It sounds easy the way 1,000 words a day sounds easy. But really, when it comes down to it, it’s the most difficult job in the world.

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