June 25, 2012
My name is Frank, and I'm a staff writer at Gwinnett Daily Post. My wife and I recently bought our first home, a 1,400 square-foot, four-sided brick house with a half-acre backyard. This blog is about our new place.
The act of writing at home has always come natural. Always, that is, until recently.
Over the past several months a series of life changes that culminated with the purchase of a home left my thoughts feeling fallow. The construction of words, commas, periods and paragraphs that had for years emerged with ease was suddenly an awkward undertaking.
Words were one-way passengers from my mind to the world, an attempt to give structured meaning to those things which I’ve touched, tasted, heard and seen. They were an often flawed, but always well-meaning interpretation of life.
Molding a sentence and a paragraph and filling a whole piece of blank notebook paper with inky dashes, dots, blotches and lines came as easy to me as drawing the next breath, a direct connection from the noisy voices of my mind to aching fingers as I scribbled with fever, trying to get it all down before the words went away.
About two months ago, the words went away.
I don’t know the exact moment, but I felt it coming. I could feel it in my lungs, in my blood. The authoritative voice that spoke without hesitation had retreated, showing no signs that it had ever been around to begin with. I sat in front of the computer at home, and I stared. I typed single characters and deleted them. Grinding my teeth, I slashed out sentences, wadding up pieces of paper. The words were meaningless, untruthful, and forced.
I was heartbroken.
My life, in all its other facets, was a dream-come true: A new house, a beautiful wife, a good job and a loving family. But I felt robbed. I took a step back and looked around at all those things, and I did something that I’d never done before: I set down the pen.
In place of writing, I began pacing the property around my new home. I mowed the grass. I pulled weeds, examining the multitude of plants, flowers and shrubs. I pruned them. I shaped them. Blisters formed on the insides of my palms, and I bought work gloves to protect them.
Up on the roof one spring afternoon, as I scooped clumps of leaves from the gutters, crouched carefully along the shingles, I looked down at the backyard. Something caught my eye.
Down across the decades of expertly-landscaped, pristine green grass and the trees and bushes that surrounded it, there was a stretch of lawn that almost glowed. Something about it seemed untapped. There was potential there, and I could feel it inside, a familiar, unflinching conviction.
I went to the store. I bought manure compost, a garden rake, a shovel, wildlife netting. I borrowed a tiller. With twine, I roped off the small plot of green grass, and I tilled it over, turning the earth. I spread the manure compost on the freshly-turned soil, and I tilled it again, the metal tines singing. The dirt’s damp scent was invigorating, comforting.
I dug tiny trenches in the fine soil and sowed the seeds of radishes, squash, cucumbers, garden beans basil and lettuce. I planted three, six-inch tall tomato seedlings.
Using a lock-blade knife, I shaved the ends of discarded crape myrtle branches to a fine point and pounded them into the ground with a rubber mallet. I built a perimeter around the sacred spot, wrapping barely-visible wildlife netting around it. I buried the netting six inches deep as a safeguard against chipmunks and moles.
And then we waited. It was days before the first little sprouts emerged from the earth. When they began to unfurl, nursery yellow and glistening with dew, it was magical. The seedlings flowered, and with a careful hand, I trimmed suckers and extraneous growth from the tomato plants as the new sprouts arose around them.
After weeks, the garden bean plant exploded with flowering buds. I took three smaller branches from the crape myrtles, and I built a trellis above the plant, criss-crossing twine as a climbing rope for the seedling to bear its fruit. I drove the legs of conical tomato cages into the dirt around the plants, the green stalks of which seemed to grow larger by the minute.
Everything came alive.
The tomato plants began to bend, heavy with glistening, green orbs, the garden beans dangled from the trellis, and the basil leaves grew shiny and fragrant. I set up a lawn chair in front of the garden, and I sat there and studied the botanical growth, my mind clear.
After decades of shaping sentences, my thoughts had grown cracked and depleted like stony soil. I had lost the writer’s voice, and no matter how I tried I couldn’t will it to come back.
But this vegetable garden, a once-blank canvas of green grass, was my creation now. With a little bit of planning and physical work, I’d stumbled upon something entirely new. And it felt overwhelmingly good to be doing what came natural.