Brown Dogs Farm (1)

By tomorrow, everything I have planted so far should have sprouted.

Today it’s Mother’s Day, and it’s pouring down rain. It’s rained a lot the past three days. In the past week, the trees have gone from bare to lush with green. It was a winter that lasted well into April this year. It made the process of preparing and planting the garden feel a bit rushed, but I was fortunate to have a friend with a tractor and tiller. He came out and, in 2 hours, did what would have taken me 8 hours to do half as well. He had no problem doing it for me, in fact he seemed to be having a lot of fun doing it.

“My garden is about a third of the size of yours, so this tractor doesn’t get to do much tilling.” He spoke about the tractor as if it were a living thing. I guess everything in the garden feels alive. Watching him till the dirt so effortlessly, I could see how a person would befriend his tractor. My back is certainly indebted to it.

He also mentioned that the ground was in great shape, and turned over easy. This was complement to me as I had used my grandpa’s rototiller the past 2 years. I took the compliment about as well as I take any compliment- something like “shit, thanks but this ground has never been tilled like this.” And it was true. The soil was perfect. Your feet would sink in with every step, like a giant swimming pool of dirt.

The garden is roughly 80 by 40. I modeled the idea completely from my memories of my grandparent’s garden some 30 years ago. I have such fond memories of being able to grab ears of corn from the garden in the summer, and memories of parking my grandpa’s truck in our front yard (we lived on a somewhat busy corner) and selling baker’s dozens for a couple a bucks each. I remember getting to keep some of the money- that was my favorite part.

So when we ended up buying a home on an acreage, I knew right away that I wanted to recreate that garden. It’s part of a bigger plan to live my life as successfully as my grandparents. I had no real experience but I assumed I would be able to learn. This type of behavior started when I stopped drinking. I enjoy challenging myself. I enjoy learning new skills. I enjoy setting goals. Most of all I enjoy when I have an idea and set a goal that seems to shock people. Ideally someone will tell me I am crazy and / or they don’t think its achievable.

I am not sure that anyone flat out told me I couldn’t sustain a garden of this size with no experience, but the facial expressions when they saw the magnitude of what I was mentioning as a “garden” absolutely did. The way a person’s eyes expand and mouth falls open. The way a person stumbles over that next sentence. They way they ask my wife “did you know he was going to do this?” I really enjoy seeing that. I am fueled by it.

And honestly, I probably don’t even need anyone to doubt me because I am filled with self doubt constantly. Even now, year 3, after years 1 and 2 were reasonably successful, I’ve really suffered only minor failures as a “farmer,” yet I am filled with doubt that these plants aren’t going to sprout. That they aren’t going to grow. That I am never going to be able to keep up on weeding the garden or watering the garden and even if I do all that I will probably fuck up something and ruin the whole thing. I am still filled with that doubt.

Well, maybe not filled… there is the other part of me, the more rational side. The side that knows that I have done everything I need to do and that I will continue to do everything I need to do to the best of my ability. In the end it will be okay. At least I will know I did everything I could.

Case in point: the ground was tilled perfectly. I made a very organized map of how I wanted to plant this year and executed that plan. I have everything measure and marked. I have everything entered into a spreadsheet that will track dates for everything I could need. I redid the fencing around the garden and replaced and rewired the electric fence to keep varmints out with new posts and new wires. Hank (our English Bulldog) tested the electric fence and assured me it is working properly. (It was an accident, he is fine, he is spoiled and snoring on a human bed next to me now- don’t call PETA).  The weather since planting has been very conducive to plant growth, and I have watered and fed the soil and plants as needed.

These are all the things I have learned over the past two years with a lot of help. I know what I am doing now and should feel really confident that everything is going to work out perfectly.

Several of the rows should have sprouted already this week. The kale, romaine, cucumber, onions, Brussels sprouts, zucchini and muskmelons all should have sprouted by now.  I can only confirm that the muskmelons have. The others, I stare at, trying to find validation that there is a row of something forming but it’s difficult. There are a few areas where it’s clear that grass or weeds are trying to grow, and I need the plant to hurry and sprout so I know exactly where to clean up.

With so much work put into this, despite the fact that I am doing everything I know to do, I get very anxious that I am going to fail- that the garden is going to somehow fail and none of the plants will grow. Somehow only weeds are going to grow and the weeds will take all the nutrients from the seeds, or blah blah blah sky is falling, Armageddon, certain death.

This happens every year at this point in the process, and I am aware of it. I know it’s just what my mind does and I know how to deal with it. I don’t allow myself to be consumed by these negative thoughts. I don’t allow myself to be deterred by the anxieties in my head. I just keep doing the work. I keep watering the garden. I keep cleaning up the soil. I keep feeding the plants. I stay the course and it always works out. I just do the next right thing.

The garden reflects my battle with addiction in that despite all my fears and anxieties, despite all the dark, depressive thoughts that might run through my head about the possible outcome, I know that the best and only chance I have of things turning out the way I want them is to do the work every single day.

The garden also gives me an outlet for my obsessive mind. For me, its the perfect type of activity to fill the some of the void left by the absence of alcohol in my life.

It keeps me occupied from April to October.
There are things I can do on a daily basis.
It makes me physically tired.
It’s constantly changing.
It’s something living that I am responsible for.
I can really obsess over it, like crazy designs and spreadsheets and shit, and no one blinks and eye.
I feel really proud of it.
I share it with friends and family.

The list could continue on, but I think the point is made. It’s an extremely positive experience and outcome and is just one of the many ways I feel like since sobering up I’ve learned to take the thing within me that made me such a terrible alcoholic and use it to make me a better person. The obsessive behavior. The never quit attitude. The ability to push myself past the point of comfort in order to achieve a goal – those were the things that made me so sick until I stopped drinking.

Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time outside. As I mentioned our garden – the Brown Dogs Farm garden – is really big, however we are surrounded by 160 acres of farm land. Beyond that, there are many farms nearby. There are thousands of acres around me. So when I am outside with my hose or my shovel, there is often the sound of tractors nearby working these farms. It’s really such an amazing and sublime time of year. We’ve been stuck inside all winter waiting for these days to come.

I was enjoying such a day recently- I believe I was planting seeds. Hands dirty, sweat on my brow. It was a bit warm with a nice cool breeze. When the breeze would come through, I’d take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from my head. “These are the days my friend” was really the only thought running through my mind. Such bliss. Then as another gust blew in I took a deep inhale and tasted the sweet and awful taste of manure. The overwhelming smell hit at the same time, and I moved to the edge of the garden to dry heave. After that I rushed to my water and a mint but nothing could remove that smell, drifting in from a neighboring farm.

In that moment I discovered a lesson that I think those zen teachers I mentioned last week would have been proud of:

No Matter How Far You Traveled, Nor How Perfect The New Life You Created Is…

The Shit is Still Just Down Wind, Close Your Mouth and Keep Working.



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