The world has all but lost her collective mind these days. I am no stranger to it.

It would seem that because we are unable to attack the current enemy with weapons of mass destruction we are left bewildered and scared. Yes, I too am worried. But, unlike so many folks, I am always worried about something.

I am by nature a disaster planner. If something is just the tiniest bit wrong, I will imagine all of the absolute worst case and usually unrealistic scenarios. All of them. Not so secretly my brain has prepared me for this my whole life. Pandemic level post apocalyptic planning  isn’t new to me. Thoughts like you need to knit faster, because you might freeze to death if you can’t make a sweater are not the helpful kind. I acknowledge them, and look for the better ideas. I try to get to the What if thoughts that I can take action on in a realistic and helpful way. After years of practice, I can usually get the disaster to hush and hear the other voices of reason.

Some of the better ideas…

Get the motorcycles ready.  I mean after all, when the zombies come I get better gas milage and I won’t be stuck on the highway with all the cars. Bikes are gassed up, oil changed and new plugs. A welcomed moment of Zen that comes with that art.

Get the still running. Check. 

Get the candles where you can find them in the dark. Done.

Get the papers, pens and paints out. Who am I kidding art supplies are always out in this house. These are the useful moments. The ones I can act on, the ones I can do and feel like I actually got something done.

Seeking thoughts for actionable things,  I remembered something helpful…we need food. Oh yeah.

I remembered I know how to grow it.

I may have hated the heat of summers and the endless hours of weeding while I was growing up, but right now, I am grateful that I spent almost every summer with my Grandparents. We didn’t go anywhere except the grocery store, and that was really only occasionally. Time at their house meant time in one of two places. The kitchen, or the garden.

This is where I learned fractions while cooking. This is where I learned how to make salad dressing. This is where I learned to cook. This is where I learned to grow. I recall using a tape measure along a trough to plant seeds properly spaced, without waste. I remember coating potatoes in bone meal before planting.  This was summers rinsing dirt from the roots of spinach and gently soaking heads of lettuce. Summers of packing grocery bags of truly fresh vegetables to walk over to every neighbor. Summers spent in sharing and in dirt.

I  remember now. I get why kids play in the dirt. I get why when I walk around I see old folks playing in the dirt. It is those of us living in the in-between that have forgotten the power of getting dirty.  I decided that this year as a result of the stupid pandemic that I would return to my roots in more ways than one. Or maybe I’m just old? Shut up Monkey.

I know how to start seeds, they were ordered and they were on the way. I knew I needed a ton of little things to start them in and searched the garage for something I could use. Because of previous days of over planning for parties and backyard barbecues  we were until recently able to host, I knew I had paper cups somewhere. I found the stack of paper cups next to 500 plastic forks.

I prepared the paper cups, scoring the bottoms with the box cutter that I always have in my pink purse so they would drain excess water. I labeled the cups with a sharpie because there is no way to remember all of them, and I can’t identify everything when it’s tiny. Sometimes you don’t know what something is until it blooms.

In a moment grateful for the back porch and sunshine I began to fill each cup with potting soil. At first I tried to use a spoon thinking I would be cleaner that way. I soon gave up on that idea and found myself grabbing handfuls of soil to place into each of the over 70 cups I was preparing. It was as soon as I felt the dirt on my hands I took a deep breath. Dirt made me remember to breathe.

I could see what I was hoping to accomplish. I know the power of planting a seed. I even planted carrot seeds. And every day he sprinkled the ground with water. The Carrot Seed about never giving up… Good tangent there Monkey.

I lovingly place seeds in each of the cups. Some cups get a few more seeds than others. Cucumbers only need a couple. It feels like you always have to take your chances with tomatoes. Peppers. Turnips. Beets and lettuce. Summer salads on the mind. Green beans. I find myself really missing my Grandpa and the dilly beans he would make to have with his martini. Gin, thank you.  I’ll can some and call them quarantini beans. Gently placing seeds not too close to each other. Gently sprinkling a bit more soil just to barely cover them and drizzle each cup with a few drops of water from the water bottle we were sharing. Me and every little hopeful seed taking small sips.

The next step.

The garden beds need to be prepped. I look over at my three beds of absolute privilege. Raised above ground, neatly bricked in and ready to be watered with a push of a button they give me a healthy dose of perspective. This task would be less backbreaking than the summers of my youth, but it had been too long and the work would be substantial. Knee high weeds I had allowed to take claim needed to go.

With determination, motivated rather than overwhelmed I began the process.  Pulling weeds for hours in my backyard wearing a sports bra without a shirt out of necessity and unusual confidence,  grateful for the sun fighting for summer when it is barely spring. I got muddy. I had dirt under all of my home manicured fingernails. I was thirsty enough to actually drink a whole 32oz water bottle and refill it again. I had tan lines. I had taken many deep breaths. I had played in dirt with a renewed sense of purpose. The weeds were gone and the garden was beginning to take form.

I found myself enjoying the process of clearing out the old to make room for the new, the wanted, the functional and needed. The process of preparing to provide. A different sense of calm was newly approaching. Honestly, just coming back from hiatus. I could feel myself shift to hopeful optimism.

A plant can’t really set roots in soil that is too hard. There must be a softness, a warmth, a gentle space to grow for something new and tiny to take a chance. I received  the gift of being able to give that space.

I stood with shovel in hand on the corner of my bed of privilege  and began shovel by shovel to loosen the ground for new roots to have the space to take hold. Step with the left foot, then the right try to maintain balance in work. Take a break. Take a breath. Drink some water. Keep going. Corner to corner edge to edge turn over the soil. A couple of hours. Dig my hands in.  Break up the clods and loosen the ground. Play like a kid in a sandbox.

Though my chapped hands are sore and I feel like I went to the gym and actually worked out for the first time in a long time, my mood is better. I feel accomplished. I feel good. I feel dirty. 

Under my fingernails and in my pink hair I feel dirt. I find connection to the world and I wonder if thats part of the meaning of the word grounded. We are all most assuredly in need a good grounding every once in a while. This time the world just said you are grounded. Yelled it really, and yelled it at all of us.

But I think that is ok that we are grounded right now. I try to be an optimist as much as I totally worry. I do believe in the power of a collective we, I believe that the world really is mostly good. Mostly. I believe that we can make the world better in tiny little ways if and when we chose to. Sometimes it takes being grounded to think about what you could’ve done better and how you’ll do better next time. For me, next time starts now. In piles of dirt.

There is confidence that comes from creating something from seemingly nothing. Watching a tiny little thing sprout up and show the world it wants to belong is inspiring. There is confidence and grace granted in being the guardian of growth. There is patience in waiting for the fruit to bear. Patience in knowing when to plant your seedlings to they don’t get scared or too cold. Go away snow, I don’t have this much patience. Patience and anticipation will be dancing together all summer long for me. Now to find the soundtrack..

I will use the gifts of knowledge that were passed down in simpler times.  I will guard the growth of my garden and guide the growth of myself in these uncertain times with that dance of patience and anticipation.  I will remember to enjoy sunshine and water that we all need. The feast will come. I will prepare it and there will always be seats at my table.

So I say in this time of pandemic uncertainty, isolation and anxiety… Give me the dirt. Let me remember the days of laughter and laundry when my kids played in mud puddles, just to play in mud puddles.  Let me remember the excitement of playing in the dirt and finding a worm. Let me enjoy the awkward tan lines and sore muscles reminding me that I am very much alive.  Let me look forward to sharing.

Let there be joy from simple things and getting dirty.


Learning to live unafraid.

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