Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Angry at the Herbs

My sad little herbs

Back in the spring I bought a little starter kit for an Italian herb window box at Barnes & Noble.  I never planted anything from seed before and all of my colleagues' talk of gardening had inspired me to take a baby step toward growing my own.  I live in an apartment so I had to keep it small anyway.  Italian herbs seemed a good way to get my hands dirty.

I didn't actually get around to starting my kit until August, which may have been my first mistake. The process was simple enough--you placed the clay pellets on the bottom of the container, soaked the eco-coir disks in water, then spread the resulting soil over the pellets. In this small way you had the opportunity to get your fingers knuckle-deep into soil, and the experience was both messy and primal. I finally had soil beneath my fingernails.

The next step was to sprinkle the tiny seeds each in their own section (sections were marked off with pencil on the side of the container) and cover the whole container with plastic wrap to speed up the germination.

My second mistake was leaving the plastic wrap on a little too long.  Sometimes I have a tendency of wandering away and forgetting things, and in this case, I didn't expect the germination to happen so fast.

It was exciting to see those first green shoots--each one the size of an ant.  I was supposed to put the container somewhere sunny.  Unfortunately our apartment is as dark as a cave.  Our livingroom has two windows and though we don't have any window treatment on them, they still don't shine much natural light into our cellar-like dwelling.  The sunniest room is our office so I placed the container on the windowsill that seemed to attract the most sun.

For a while there was noticeable progress.  The parsley growth were still as tiny as fleas but the oregano and basil were shooting up above the lip of the metal container.  Of course, I was anticipating the lush herbs I would be using in my tomato sauce by the end of the week, but my husband said to be patient--it would take more time.  Patience is not my virtue; in fact I have only a fleeting acquaintance with it.  But I mentally calculated that my herbs would be ready by September.

In October my husband suggested I harvest some of my stubborn little shoots to make room for them to grow exponentially.  They were too small to use but I needed to allow more room in what was becoming an overcrowded tenement.  Although I was pissed off that my shoots were stunted, they were still my little seedlings.  How could I choose which ones to kill and which ones to spare?  I had my own version of Sophie's Choice here, and I didn't want to cut any of them off from a potentially viable life as an additive in my marinara sauce.  But I hadn't come this far just to chicken out--if you wanted to live off the land, I reminded myself, you had to be willing to make the tough sacrifices. 

So I plucked about six shoots from the box.  I cradled them in a soft tissue and laid them to rest in my wastebasket.  One of my cats fished the wadded tissue out of the trash and spread dead seedlings all over my floor, leaving a trail of soil behind her.  Even at the last moment, these aborted herbs were denied a dignified burial.

After the brutal harvesting my herbs just stopped growing.  I watered them and turned the box around so both sides could receive benefit of direct sunlight.  Each time I went to check on them, my herbs remained dwarfed and barely fragrant.

That's when I got angry at my herbs.  I had given them my tender loving care and attention, but they refused to thrive.  They seemed another example of the failed potential I saw in my own life.  I still hadn't written that novel.  I hadn't traveled to the Amalfi Coast.  I hadn't been profiled in O magazine wearing a gown of jewel hues.  I was almost 40 and I couldn't even grow three simple herb plants.

I remember the last time I was unemployed, which was only for a month.  Still, my husband and I were both unemployed at the same time, and this seemed a bad omen.  But I didn't know from bad omens until some goldfish we had rescued from a wedding where they had been centerpieces all died in the same week.  I woke up one morning and found two of them had jumped from their bowls onto the place mats on our kitchen table.

We are doomed, I thought.

I did get a job pretty quickly after that and Mike did, too.  So maybe my superstitions were unfounded.  Still, I would like to see at least a couple of bunches of basil flourish. 

I keep hope alive.

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