The weather was grey, blustery, cold today and I resisted going into the garden

Windchimes clanked all morning long – not the lovely, beckoning tinkle of a soft spring day, but the hard crashing of wood against metal. “Come outside if you dare,”  they provoked. So many other things I could do: study Spanish, practice Luohan, read about the Liver. Or Argentina. But the remaining days of my Spring break are narrowing, and there is still much to be done. This is the year I demanded redemption for all the other years of May’s arrival and me regretting not doing what needed to be done in April. And so I put on my fleece, rain/wind pants & boots, grabbed my fierce determination along with a shovel and headed outside. 

Finishing the Bamboo relocation project had been on my agenda since early last summer when I let my studio rental go because of the pandemic. I had held on for months, despite not having a lease, in hopes the world would not turn out like it did. When I moved out I decided to keep the bamboo that was in one of those silver horse troughs at the entrance. I’ve always succumbed to the cliché of bamboo at any space I have had aesthetic control over and have given away a lot of it when I moved on. This year there was so much loss in my world, in our world, I decided I was keeping the bamboo. 

Wrangling the bamboo from the container was a significant project. I spent hours digging the clumps out. I yanked and tugged and pulled hard. I could have really used some help but was alone due to the lockdown. It was hard. It was a mess. I remained resolved. I stuck the tall canes and their dirty roots in the back of my car, leaving the hatch open because they were so long. I drove from Fremont to Beacon Hill on side streets at 20 mph training my eyes on road and trunk hoping I wouldn’t lose hatch or bamboo to the abandoned city streets. I had no idea where I would plant them. I just didn’t want to lose one more damn thing to the pandemic. 

There is an area of my house that is hidden, no one sees it. It’s a weedy nightmare no matter how hard I try to contain it. My first teacher taught me this: pay attention to what is not seen. And so like keeping my car trunk tidy, folding & organizing my dresser drawers, and keeping my kitchen cabinets well organized, I do my best to take care of this small weedy strip along side this unseen part of my house. Inevitably the weeds explode into the heat of summer and take a stronger root than I can manage. I know it’s not personal, but it feels like it is. I give up and wait for winter to trick me into thinking they are gone. 

I decided the salvaged bamboo was going along this forbidding side of my house that no one ever sees. A last-ditch effort to win the 7 year battle of will and aesthetic as it were. Over the next week I purchased three more horse troughs and 12-3 cubic feet bags of dirt.  It took me 3 trips to haul it all back home – if you don’t count the 2 additional round trips to exchange for size after I realize I wanted a more symmetrical look. (One of the dire consequences of my world and my work is you can rarely say, “good enough.”) I weeded one more time, put down weed cloth and hauled those troughs out of my trunk and down 3 flights of garden stairs.  

I positioned them several times so they were symmetrical in that place no one would see. I pushed wheelbarrow’s full of 1/4” minus rock from the lower level of my yard up, across the mossy back yard past trees and thorny blackberry canes and over to the sidewalk. I was grateful my body still worked as it toted 5 gallon bucket by 5 gallon bucket down the stairs and hoisted them up and over into the troughs. And then there were the 3 cubic feet bags of dirt….. I had at the bamboo one more time, attempting to make smaller clumps out of the entangled concretized roots. I used shovel, saw and hori-hori, to moderate avail. At the end of it all I said to the bamboo, good luck, we’ll all just do our best and hope we live through winter. 

Today, months later, a few dead bamboo canes and millions of human deaths later, I picked up my fierce determination once again and in the midst of this cold windy April day, finished the project. Memories of my first teacher, his lessons and all that has happened this year mingled with the discordant song of wind chimes. Last fall I had delivered 2 yards of bark along with the garden mulch in hopes of finishing this project then. Now, I pushed wheelbarrows of the shredded cedar up the back yard hill, past mossy grass, trees and thorned blackberry canes. Grateful to have a body that still works I carried the mulch down garden stairs bucket by 5-gallon bucket. I dumped it on the weed cloth, surrounding the bamboo planters. 2 yards of bark and six hours later I raked it even.

All the while I thought about this past year. As gardeners do I dug around in the metaphors of shoveling, hauling, dumping and raking clean. As gardeners do I hoped to find the lessons of hope, death and redemption in that which is seen and that which is not. I feel neither happy or adrift that I completed this project - a quiet metronome on my to-do list, ticking away behind the scenes of this pandemic cycle. It’s simply done. I’m vaccinated now too, also a completion of sorts, and I’m looking for the lessons there too. I’m supposed to feel something like happiness or relief, I guess, but really the anxiety I have felt now for over a year remains. The side yard looks great for now even if no one ever sees it, but I still have no idea how to be in the new world.   The weeds are still there, underneath it all. I suspect they will reappear sometime soon and perhaps that is simply the cat and mouse game we will always play.