Guardian of the Vegetables: Gardening Through the Pandemic

By Terri Smith –

A few months ago, our world still felt ‘normal.’

My poignant ‘before’ moment happened the weekend before spring break at a show our performance art group was putting on in Prince George. We were in the dressing room of the PG Playhouse putting on our costumes. I remember looking around at our troupe, these people I love so much, and feeling so grateful for the life I was living. I thought back to four years ago when I first began performing and how it had felt like I had run away to join the circus. I loved how it still seemed like that, but how it was now so familiar. Scarlet asked me to help pin her costume ears, and as I wove hair and bobby pins over her headband she said with a laugh, “It’s going to be such a crazy week for teaching: we have a time change tomorrow, then it’s a full moon, and then Friday the 13th, and it all happens the week before spring break!” I was also working in the schools, and in the coming week we all kept counting down the days till the weekend. “Everything will be fine,” we told ourselves and each other. “We just have to make it through this week.”

How wrong we were.

Terri Smith wrapped in gardening row cover. The first Saturday of May is World Naked Gardening Day (and it’s always so cold here! Photo: Mark Rupp

During the first two weeks of isolation I felt anxious, trapped, weirdly happy, scared, sad, angry, excited, confused, sleepy, weepy, giggly, in despair…sometimes all in the same hour!
There was still over two feet of snow here. The days when I had enough energy to crawl and swim through the snow and into the forest I felt better. I hugged trees. I petted moss. I slid down banks and giggled when I just missed landing in the devil’s club at the bottom. I would feel like I had done something, accomplished something. I would have a bath when I got back, and I would write until the water was cold and my toes wrinkled.

But other days I would fall into the internet for hours and emerge feeling drained and sad. I would sit outside with my tea and look up at the stars. In these moments I would sometimes feel better. I would listen to the wind in the trees and admire my beautiful garden gate, half buried in snow, and it all felt so peaceful. I would think about what I had heard about the pollution clearing over L.A. and about the sky in China being visible for the first time in ages, and I would feel grateful that, in spite of the hardships we were all facing, the Earth was getting a needed rest.

But other times I would not feel better. I would feel trapped, almost claustrophobic. I would feel my heartbeat rise. I would fight panic and wonder how everything here could look the same and yet I could feel so different. I would struggle to breathe, and I would cry, and I would feel ashamed for how I felt, and I would feel afraid and sad for everyone.

And then spring began to arrive, and I began to spend hours digging quack grass out of the soil in the greenhouse. I planted a few radish seeds every week to check when the soil was warm enough for germination. With my hands in the earth, I felt fine.

Some days I didn’t want to drag myself out there. But eventually I would, and the minute I would step into the comforting warmth of the greenhouse I would feel better.

When the first radishes finally sprouted, I lay down on the soil so I could examine them at eye level.Each perfect leaf filled me with joy! I felt such relief that spring was truly coming. I had almost been unable to believe it really would. The world was still turning, and even though everything else felt so out-of-control and overwhelming, growing food was something I could do.

I can nurture tiny seeds and help them grow into beautiful and vibrant plants that will provide us with food.

The garden has saved me. It gives me a focus, and the act of gardening calms my mind. The physical labour of gardening is good for my body. The orderliness of watering and turning seedlings, of opening and closing the greenhouse provides structure in a time when I have no idea what day it is.

There is also the food. Even before the garden grows, I dig dandelions from the beds where I will plant the potatoes. I clip garlic chives and pull small bulbs of garlic. I pick young dandelion greens and lamb’s quarter and stinging nettle and make myself a breakfast of sautéed dandelion root and garlic, poached eggs, and wild greens.

I do not know what is to come. But I do know I will be okay, as long as I can garden.

Terri Smith is an artist, educator, gardener, burlesque performer, and sometimes reluctant writer living in Quesnel, BC. She teaches workshops on gardening and needle felting and can be found on Facebook at Road’s End Vegetable Company, or Something Magical.

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