And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Recently, a client talked reverently about his mother, saying that she always found a sense of balance and happiness by digging in the dirt. My unfortunate reaction was, “Ick!”

I hate getting my hands dirty. As a kid, my fingerpainting art was made with the very tips of my fingers and barely covered any of the page before I declared it done. I hated clay. Play-doh was okay within reason – I could use utensils to make things out of it and not actually have to touch it. Or smell it. Ick. I was never a fan of sandboxes. My backyard neighbor had a huge, father-made sandbox, and I would sit on one of the little corner seats and help direct the play, but I would never dig myself. Ick.

When I moved into my first house with my first husband, there was a huge bed of lilies of the valley all along the back side of the house. I loved these glorious little flowers, so pretty with their tiny bells. And they required next to no weeding! When a weed poked its head above the plants, I grasped it and yanked it out, without getting my hands near the dirt at all.

I did thin them in the fall, and one afternoon while I was doing this, with bare hands, I felt what I thought was a rock beneath the leaves. I pulled it out and found that I was holding a dead bird.

We all know how I feel about birds. It might have been dead, but it still went flying. And I scrubbed my hands pink that day.

And now, here was my client and his mother, offering balance and happiness. Despite my immediate “Ick!”, it sounded nice. And so I took stock of my surroundings.

Our 3-story condo fits snugly between the city sidewalk and our parking lot. There is no yard. The closest we have is a tiny strip of dirt that runs right next to the AllWriters’ windows. Soon after moving here, I pulled out the “prairie grass” the developer planted. It looked really scraggly and its blades were as sharp as anything with the name blades should be. You could get your legs lacerated if you walked too close. So I put in hostas and a sort of lily that I have since forgotten the name. They provide a brilliant burst of red flowers in July. Again, very little weeding. I don’t have to put my hands in the dirt.

But other than that, the only “outdoor space” we have is our 3rd floor deck. Over the years, I’ve bought two baskets of flowers and put them into ceramic pots in the corners that hang over the street. That’s it. In Covid Summer of 2020, I brought home Ms. Hib, a hibiscus tree that chose me at the grocery store. She didn’t require weeding either, and she and I spent a lonely summer, talking to each other on the deck. She bloomed brilliantly, but died during the winter after I brought her indoors. Then came Carla the hibiscus, another tree that claimed me, after the passing of my young student Carla. Carla sat on the deck last summer, and she survived the winter in my office. This spring, at the same grocery store where Ms. Hib came from, I unexpectedly fell in love with Sydney, another hibiscus. I have no idea how I’m going to fit two hibiscus trees in my office this winter, but Sydney didn’t care. Home she came.

I moved the hibiscus outside and then stood on my deck and considered my student’s words. His mother’s words.

A little online research later, I ordered a very nice 3-tier raised garden. The 3 tiers could be stacked in a multitude of ways, or they could be laid side by side. If I was going to dig in the dirt, I was going to save my back.

But I still worried about getting my hands dirty.

A few weeks ago, on my first outing after having Covid, I wandered into the plant section of Menards. I knew I didn’t want fruit or vegetables. I wanted flowers that I could glance at as I worked from my desk inside, and that I could relish when I relaxed on the deck. My son brought me an Easter lily the day after Easter, because he manages a grocery store and they were marked ridiculously down when Easter was over. He also brought me another plant for Mother’s Day. These were both going into my “garden”. I had a field day (note the pun) at Menards and came home with a riot of color. And dirt. I came home with dirt. And my hands got dirty just from handling the bags.

Ick. No balance and happiness yet!

All afternoon into evening, I toiled in the soil. I did not wear gloves. I dug holes. I pulled plants from their little temporary containers and I tucked them in and pulled up a blanket of dirt. I watered.

I had dirt up to my elbows.

But when I was done, well…I had a whole new crop of babies to deal with. Yes, I went inside and scrubbed until every last bit was gone from under my fingernails. But now, Carla and Sydney had plenty of green company. And I was surrounded by color. And living, breathing things. And a sense of accomplishment.

And balance. And happiness.

A couple days ago, we had the mother of all storms roll through Waukesha. A suspiciously green sky, a deluge of rain and hail, wind that howled. Through it all, I stood in front of my deck door and watched. I thought about running out and bringing in Carla and Sydney. I was so afraid the wind would snap them in two. But lightning was everywhere – a later report said we were getting 87 strikes a minute. So I stood there, with my clean hands folded, and waited.

Everything survived. The flowers took an hour or two to stand up again, but they stood.

Me too. With clean hands that are willing to get dirty from time to time. Balance and happiness.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The “garden”. Sydney is on the left, Carla on the right, the raised garden in the middle.
Another view. Edgar Allen Paw takes a moment to smell the flowers.
Enjoying the deck. See my toes in the lower left corner? And Edgar relaxes under the table.
Edgar is a big fan.
In a corner, Little Literary Lion sits in his jungle of a palm tree and marigolds. With a clock, of course.
Despite the storm, Carla sprouts a new bud.

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