living abroad
Photo: Jonny Valiant
"This is the year of the garden."

I made the announcement during our first official dinner as country folk. My husband, kids and I had left Brooklyn and settled in Dummerston, Vermont (population: 1,864). I hoped to slow down and drench myself in country pursuits.

"I thought this was the year of the sewing machine," my husband said. "Or was it the slow cooker?"

I like to think of myself as a skill seeker. But really, I'm just a crackerjack procrastinator. My compulsion to start a new project or master a new skill tends to flare up whenever something else requires finishing. Like the memoir I'd been intending to write for years, which an agent had recently expressed interest in. It was the phone call of a lifetime, a moment I'd seen in movies but never experienced. She gave me a deadline. My next move was obvious: Plant garden.

I'm not so much a go-getter as a go-getter-of-stuff. I believe that for a project to flourish, it needs gear. This venture begged for a floppy hat, shovels, probably a small tractor. I envisioned deer fencing and a grand entrance—so I hired a foxy builder for the job. I would get to writing just as soon as I found the leafiest varieties of kale to plant, and drove three towns over for a darling orange garden hose. After multiple excursions, I nuzzled my vegetable plants into their compost and made a mental note to water them. Later.

Five weeks in, the thing was a mess. My tomato plants were tall and leggy, and the cucumber vines—well, they got away from me. A Hula-Ho wasn't the key to a dazzling garden, just as the ideal pen hadn't miraculously written my book while I watched reruns of House Hunters.

But here's some local news: My garden yielded produce. Somehow the sight of those fallen tomatoes didn't cause me to leave the whole thing for dead and try my hand at building a chicken coop. Rather, it inspired me to don some (brand-new) protective gear and fight through a tangle of hornworm-infested vines to rescue the survivors. I had big plans for that bounty, but most of it wilted on the counter or rotted in the fridge. Still, I did salvage enough to get a few salads on the table. I even made a compost pile for the dead vegetables.

That fall, after the last plant surrendered, I filled a Mason jar with earth, placed it on my desk—and hunkered down to write. My jar was a reminder of all that might sprout, even in sketchy conditions, if I'd only stick around to let it. My chair wasn't ideal; in fact, it was downright uncomfortable. Plus the words were being lazy, probably from all that light streaming in. Yet I managed to stay put and write (most of) my book.

Maybe I mosey around the starting gate for fear I don't actually have all that potential my teachers once swore I did (if only I'd apply myself). But it turns out that even droopy spinach can be fashioned into pesto. Which reminds me: I need to find just the right wood to build that chicken coop.

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