The Healing Power of the Garden
I pulled into the Appleton milk plant at noon on Tuesday — tractor/tanker loaded with condensed skim, ready to be unloaded and crafted into low-fat mozzarella cheese. It had been a long couple of days of driving, and this was my last stop before heading home to my wife and daughter. I parked and ran into the truck bay, locating a couple of uniformed intake guys. “Are you the Bartnik load from Greenville?”
They exchanged the glance every truck driver eventually comes to recognize and despise. “Well, I hope you have a comfortable bunk; it’s going to be awhile… Let’s see, by the time we get the loads unloaded and lines all washed… you’re probably looking at 4:00 at the earliest.”
Intimately familiar with the depression stemming from four hours in a truck sleeper, or the parking lot of an industrial milk plant, I grabbed my wallet and phone and headed out for a walk, which turned into a jog. Not having packed food to account for the extra four hours of trip time, I decided to stop at a place called Glass Nickel Pizza and kill some time.
I entered the cavernous space and let my eyes adjust. “Is the outdoor seating open?” I asked the hostess hopefully. “Sure is.” she replied, “Just one?”
I sat alone on the concrete balcony beneath the gray sky. Every chair but mine was leaned up on tables from last night’s cleanup. Apparently nobody else cared to eat outside. I went through the early stages of rigamarole with the waitress, which becomes a bit less natural each time I do it. “Are you sure there isn’t anything else I can get you right away? Mozzarella sticks?”
“No, just the water will be fine, thanks.”
My only company was a single hornet, who appeared to be just as lonely as me. He never left my sight. I took a mindless sip of ice water from the plastic straw I hadn’t noticed I’d been drinking out of. I imagined it floating atop a slippery island of waste in the ocean. I took another sip. It just didn’t make any sense.
My pizza arrived, and met my basic expectations – a relatively novel assortment of artificial ingredients, combined with enough salt and fat to mimic actual flavor. I read my Sun magazine, killing time as I slowly ate my pizza. Nowhere to be, after all.
My waitress returned, and my hornet friend zoomed away momentarily. “You still okay out here?”
“Hmm, what do you guys have for coffee?” I was hoping for the name of a roaster, the term “French Press,” or anything to insinuate an alternative to cheap, diluted drip coffee. I was, after all, willing to buy myself another half hour in this desolate haven.
“We just have our… house roast.”
“Okay, I’m good; I’ll just take the check.”
Having saved myself $2.15 worth of disappointment, I took a meandering walk home to my truck. Over the railroad bridge I plodded, as a steady stream of cars flowed impatiently by. I stopped and looked over the tracks. Depressingly austere, they accentuated the grayness of the day perfectly. Once on the other side, I decided to walk down into a small patch of wild foliage. I climbed over the rail, nearly stepping on a large bubbling of goop.
What the hell is this?? It looked like globs of human fat, collected and transported, only to be somehow expelled from a moving car window; landing in a plop and congealing for an eternity of nastiness. It just didn’t make any sense.
I walked down towards the tracks, stepping over dirty candy wrappers and disintegrating fast food bags. Under the bridge were a couple of obvious homeless encampments; one on either side. I wondered how pecking order was established; who got to live under this particular bridge, and why. Stepping over a couple 24-ounce Natural Ice cans, I made my way to a tiny slice of solace in some trees and brambles; a patch that hadn’t yet been deemed valuable enough to clear cut and cement over.
From the other side, I heard the sound of concrete being cut at a concrete cutting business. I eyed some goldenrod and unknown berries, and thought about texting Logan Brice a picture to see if they were edible. Sighing, I reentered the world, wandering through the concrete cutters’ parking lot, and back towards the white walls and stainless steel silos of the milk plant.
It was 2:30, and I figured I’d check in again. This time, the intake guy’s face betrayed even greater pity. “Didn’t your dispatcher call you? We are not taking any more skim today, until about 4 am tomorrow. Sorry about that.”
I conferred with my brother and headed home, fully loaded. Two hours of waiting, and an additional 250 big-rig miles, for nothing… It just didn’t make any sense.
I finally arrived home in the last slivers of daylight. Before even entering the house, I watered my backyard trees and plants from my bucket of comfrey tea fertilizer. Inexplicably compelled towards the soil, I grabbed a shovel and transplanted some ferns that have been waiting around in small pots for months. I watered them in and looked upon them with delight. I stepped into the house a new man.
Oddly enough, the simple, 20-minute act of fertilizing, digging, planting, adding compost, and watering seven ferns all but recalibrated me, and negated all of the depression I’d accumulated from 1,100 miles, and two straight days on the road. There is, I’m learning, a healing element of gardening and work in the soil that is greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t explain it, but it just makes sense.