My view of humanity is not terribly lofty, maybe because I’ve spent so much of the last fifteen years staring downwards at the juncture of shovel and soil. But I’m convinced we’re mostly animal and driven by instinct to do a few essential things, like eat well, have sex, chatter, and garden.
Unable to do any one of these, my theory of human nature continues, we get slightly tweaked and seek out alternatives that are generally unsatisfying and sometimes full-blown self-destructive.
The problem is, if you’re like me and believe gardening is entirely necessary to the proper functioning of both mind and body, how do you replace it in a climate where from December through most of April gardening is impossible?
1. Bitterness and craziness is one alternative. I do enjoy some of this in winter. I spend a certain amount of time walking around and fuming about the unfairness of life and the futility of all effort, before recalling that nobody in my immediate family is sick, my children are sweet, my husband’s still good for a few laughs, and there’s always shopping for antique light fixtures on eBay.
2. Hibernation. A really appealing alternative that doesn’t work for me, since there is always somebody in my house yelling for a sandwich or wanting to know where their socks are. Life has not allowed me a nap since I was four. I think I’m okay with that.
3. Chickens. I loved having them in the backyard because shoveling out their coop was the only January activity that felt actually gardening-like. I got rid of them because of a problematic neighbor, who then divorced, sold his house, and disappeared into the sands of history. Must get that chicken operation going again.
4. Winter sports. The New York Times recently ran the ultimate "just do it" piece that argued there is simply no reason not to get out and move, even in the coldest weather. I’m not a skier, though I can see that that’s coming, since my older kids are avid downhillers. But in middle age I have become a wildly enthusiastic ice skater. I have no idea what I’m doing–hated skating as a kid and never learned–so I can’t stop, can’t skate backwards, can’t always avoid crashing when there’s a child down in front of me. But I can go happily forwards and around a rink for hours at a time, and since I apparently have the depth of mind of a goldfish, that’s exhilarating.
5. Dreaming about moving to Portland, Oregon. I’ve never been there, but it looms large in my imagination, as a kind of year-round gardening Valhalla. The problem is, I love my part of upstate New York, which manages to combine tons of culture with tremendous natural beauty, wonderful people, and cheap but charming real estate.
6. Getting out of the house. The New York Times also ran a piece last week about a winter-blues-fighting program at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The psychotherapist who leads it does NOT instantly bring the legions of Northeastern depressives into the greenhouses–which seems like the obvious choice to me–but instead forces them to stay outside and notice things in the open air, on the theory that lack of sun contributes to foul winter moods.
Still, all this stuff is plastic spoons and naugahyde, barely enough to keep a person on the straight and narrow. It really is a wonder more of us cold-climate gardeners don’t commit crimes or bundle subprime mortgages or get large tattoos.
I hate being a gardener in winter. But it’s better than not being a gardener at all, because most of those poor souls suffer from the winter blues all year long.