Fall Clean-Up

Fall is certainly a logical time for tidying up the garden a little bit. There are lots of crops to harvest, winter vegies and cover crops to plant, flower beds to mulch with leaves, other beds to begin reconditioning, and generally plenty of garden debris to necessitate making one or more batches of compost. And the list goes on... We simply know we must do these things- the sooner the better.

So imagine my discomfort when I needed to work eight to twelve hours days on a construction project that ran from mid-August to mid-September. How would I ever put in my fall/winter garden? By September it was too late to direct-seed many of the winter crops like carrots, beets, or any of the brassicas. So late one afternoon and evening I quickly seeded some hardy lettuces, mustards, and cover crops, and a few days later planted some winter brassica starts-snow crown cauliflower, purple and white sprouting brocolli, and some savonarch cabbages. Then off we went on our one and only camping/canoe trip of the summer to Waldo Lake, our favorite high alpine lake in the Oregon Cascades.

Of course, the weather turned cold the very next day as my daughter and I sat on the shore drawing. The temperature literally dropped twenty degrees in and hour or so, the lake became too rough for canoing, and great cumulus storm clouds rolled in, growing darker by the minute. The opposite shoreline disappeared as the cloud bank lowered and began to envelope the lake. So much for swimming or even casually relaxing. Sonji scurried for the tent and climbed into her sleeping bag for warmth. I bundled up to watch the amazing transformation as winter came to the high country. (And I worried a bit about all the things I had left to do in the garden before I was ready for winter).

Back at the campsite, I hurriedly gathered firewood and Forrest built a fire. As the first raindrops fell, Sonji moved her sleeping bag into the car, disappeared inside of it, and promptly fell asleep. This left Forrest and I free to philosophize in front of the fire while we stoicly struggled to keep our backsides warm. An icy wind now blew straight off the lake (wherever it was)! And the clouds had all but swallowed us, obscuring even the trees a short distance away. Our conversation turned quickly from topics of love and life and the challenges of relationship to-of all things- the horrendous mess in the garden shed. Suddenly it was my mess and my garden shed. Beleive me, I used every trick I knew to try to steer our talk away from this subject, even threatening to pack up and leave. But my remonstrations were in vain. Forrest was on a roll.
He said I was a hypocrite for writing about the joys of a sanctuary garden and having such big messes in certain parts of the house and in the shed. I attempted fruitlessly to defend myself, citing, among other things, lack of time and proper storage places. After all, what house beside ours has literally no closet space? He was undaunted by any argument I raised, even my suggestion that he cultivate the ability to see the order in a given place instead of just the disorder, similar to seeing the good qualities in a person rather than their faults. After all, I'm not entirely disorderly, just somewhat.

Well, to make a long story shorter (our "discussion" went on for some three hours), as I exhausted every escape route. He was adamant. It was time to put our place in order. Okay, okay. Chilled to the bone by now and having rapidly depleted our wood supply pirated from other desserting campers, we decided to leave. We packed up in record time, drove home silently in the rainy dusk, and ate a big dinner at the Burrito Boy cafe before heading home. I was building up my energy and strength for what I knew I had to do. The inevitable was finally coming to pass as my bad mess karma caught up with me at last. I thought of the wise words of the sage, Paramahansa Yogananda. "Choose some worthy task or project that you have been told you could not do, and try to do it. Each day strive to accomplish something that you have always thought you could not accomplish." Well, here was my opportunity.

The next morning I got out of bed reluctantly and, after my morning meditation, headed out to the garden shed. Of course I was used to the fact that the door barely opens any more because of all the debris. But when I squeezed in and really saw the mess I now had to deal with, it was all I could do not to bolt. "Lord, change no circumstance in my life, change me," a saint once prayed, before facing an inevitable and difficult test. That was my prayer now.
I proceeded to gut the shed. I'll just get everything outside, I reasoned, and then I'll figure out what to do with it. From the back left corner of the shed alone, which is less than a quarter of the total five by eight dimension, I dug out an amazing amount of stuff. It was like a bottomless Pandora's box. No wonder I'm considered an expert in packing lots of things into a small space for a trip. Surely I had honed my craft in this very shed I was now "unpacking".
Forrest came home at that point, rolled his eyes and sneered (I swear it) at the amazing spread on the lawn, and promptly made a bee-line for the far corner of the garden, where he busied himself intently for the rest of the day. Perhaps he just forgot that he had promised to help me... Meanwhile, back in the snake pit the plot was thickening. I had uncovered a veritable commune of mice.

It must have sounded strange to Forrest and Sonji and whatever neighbors were around to periodically hear a horrendous scream break out across the meadow as I encounterd yet another mouse. It's not that I was afraid of them; it's just unnerving when they suddenly jump out at you. They were running frantically across the shelves and leaping out of every box and bag. More than one fat little Buddha looked me right in the eye as if to say, "You scum, you. How could you destroy my home just as winter is coming on? Have you no heart?"

The real corker came when I dragged out the bag of peat moss I'd forgotten I had. "Gee, peat moss-I can use that..." But inside I saw, with another scream, that there was not only a fat mouse in there, but all her little babies as well. They were terror stricken. I felt like the Mouse Rambo about to commit genocide. Remorsefully and quickly I carried the bag to a safe covered area behind the shed and closed the top. "Okay, okay, you can have the peat moss. I don't want it anyway," I called over my shoulder as I made a fast exit. But I saw the mama mouse run out of a hole in the bag with all her babies clinging to her underside. She dissappeared under the shed. When I checked in the bag later, she had not returned. Now I was really a smuck.

Back at work, I decided-just for fun-to do an inventory of what I had purged from the shed thusfar. I used the back of an ancient, mouse-stained list of organic fertilizers and a crooked red pen from a enterprizing local chiropractor that read "Regular adjustments will help keep you smiling." Hah! "After this I may need a chiropractor," I thought. Here is a partial list of what now lay in an ever-expanding pile on the grass in front of the shed:

* 2 cases assorted unused organic insecticides given to me years ago to test
* 600# plus of various organic fertilizers
* 27 empty cardboard boxes
* 3 dead sprinklers
* 3 dead spray bottles
* 1 pink sled
* 28 empty fertilizer bags
* 233 plastic plant markers-assorted orange and white
* 1 ratan curtain
* my missing bulb planter
* at least 100 yards of reemae (garden fabric)-now finely shredded for nests
* 10 four-gallon plastic pails (7 of them empty)
* 4 sixty foot lengths of fine black strawberry netting
* my missing blue sweatshirt
* 8 different containers of fish fertilizer
* 3 bags of solidified dolomite lime
* 1 thirty year old blue enamel cooking pot
* 2 dead Christmas wreaths
* 1 soil test kit
* 1 pH meter that never worked
* 19 one gallon plastic milk jugs
* at least 25 empty plastic bags
* the shrivelled remains of the last 4 seasons of garlic bulbs and stalks
* 1 large macrame plant hanger
* 2 foam kneeling pads
* a couple hundred red lava rocks in various sizes (Was I thinking of putting in a rock garden at one time?)
* 1 antique picnic basket with a gold, plastic eagle on the front
* 2 broken wicker baskets
* 9 4x12 garden signs on cedar posts
* 3 1/2 pairs of work gloves
* 1 fifty foot roll of clear plastic
* 1 hundred foot roll of weed barrier fabric
* 20 yds. of tangled fishline
* 1 dog-earred "Sunset Western Garden Book"
* 1 large gray plastic tub
* 2 doz. 3/4 in. plastic clip-ons for cloches
* 1 geometric thread painting on velvet- vintage 1974
* 2 wooden tulips

Well, that's a start. And it's a mystery to me how all that could ever fit in such a small space. I'm a real magician. If only I could have employed magic to make it all disappear. Instead I hauled most of it out of the garden and stacked it in a great pile to recycle. Other more useful things were stacked in a give-away pile. The rest went into the garbage pile to take to the dump. A relatively small amount actually went back into the shed, where it was neatly organized on the shelves.
I must admit to feeling rather proud of this rare effort towards organization and, of course, relieved. I have always secretly dreaded the moment on garden tours when some curious and indiscreet person would peer in the window of the shed to see what was inside. Kind of like the comic where the devout zen master is deep in meditation in his very austere room, with only a chair and a bamboo screen. But behind the screen is an unbelievable pile of junk stacked almost to the ceiling. In our beautiful garden sanctuary, clearly a messy shed does not fit. Now I would have nothing to fear. As for the resident mouse population, I suppose they have reconnoitered by now and selected a new place to call home for the winter. Please, God, may it not be in the garden shed.

What was Forrest's comment, you might be wondering, after I cleaned not just for the one hour per day I had promised but for an entire day? He hasn't said much yet, but he sure did cook me a good dinner. I think he knows that his corner of the shed, which is supposedly for tools and nails, is likewise due for a major overhaul. Tools? What tools? They are all but buried. He best stay in my good graces or I'll sic all those angry mice on him. Or maybe I'll just go camping by myself next time.

Oh, I did take the time to capture this memorable event on film. using my tripod and a camera with a timer, I was able to run into the picture with my push broom in hand and experiment with various rueful poses and expressions. After all, it's been at least ten years since I cleaned up the garden shed. And with any luck, it will be that long before I get around to it again. Anyway, I have to tackle the pantry next, and after that it's the back of the bedroom. By then I'll need a good two weeks in Hawaii to recover!

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Tricia Narana McDowell