I spent many years feeling like a tourist, and not always in a good way.
I used to envy people who seemed rooted in one place. I thought of myself as a bumbling character living out of my backpack, who occasionally was invited to dinner in homes that felt stable and permanent.
How did I know this groundedness when I saw it? There were various indicators, but some off the top of my head were the ability to concoct a quiche as a last-minute dinner option, owning and playing board games and having a thriving garden.
The gardening thing especially threw me for a loop. Could I imagine myself staying in one place long enough to invest in my natural surroundings? Not really. But I admired people who did, and vaguely thought perhaps I would get there someday.
In the meantime I flirted with this idea of growing things in the ground.
I lived for about a year on an urban farm. During that time I volunteered my "services" as a farmhand in exchange for room and board through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program (WWOOF, wwoof.net). What this really looked like was me driving around in a flatbed truck with the lead gardener, hacking into the dirt where he told me to, and watering. I did a lot of watering.
Even though I didn't understand what I was doing, I loved it. I liked getting dirty all day and not caring about it. I loved spending all that time outdoors. I enjoyed schlepping tools around over my shoulder. I mostly liked shoveling, although the payoff was never in proportion to the amount of work I put into it. My favorite part about being a WWOOFer was that feeling when I was sitting in a lawn chair at the end of the day, feeling fully worked, eating fresh salad and drinking a beer.
Of course, even though I was spending most of my days with my hands in dirt, I was still living out of my backpack. I had a small loft bed in an open-air room that doubled as a drying room, with sliced tomatoes filling screens in the sun in the lower part. I hung up my clothing on pegs.
Then, I moved in with my boyfriend. I had my few earthly possessions, but it was still his place, of his design and with his furniture. He lived in a small condo so we built a container garden on his asphalt porch. That summer, I grew three tomatoes, one beet and several baby carrots.
You could say I hadn't exactly found my gardening stride. My ability to garden was still commensurate with how grounded I felt in one place, which was not very.
Finally, my now-husband and I have our own place. In Palmer, I am surrounded by people with impressive growing accolades. I'm starting, with the help of many, many friends to actually get the hang of the gardening thing.
It's started to dawn on me that we can plant almost whatever we want. We can dig up a corner of the yard over there if we'd like to, and turn that into more plants. I suddenly care about composting and making my soil a really nice place where things want to grow. I can now identify invasives and I take time to pull them out.
Gardening, for me, is a proxy for investing in and caring about one place in particular. I spent a lot of time taking in different facets of the world when I was younger and exploring what made everything, and me, tick. Now, I still explore. I travel a ton. I make friends easily. I love hearing about others' experiences, and I still push myself to grow. But instead of doing all of this while hopscotching from place to place in life, I'm grounded.
We have board games. I can throw together a quiche for dinner. I love having people over.
This year I'm marveling at how the mint, rhubarb and strawberries popped back up after a whole winter away. I'm carefully watering the new seeds and inspecting the rows to see if anything is coming up. I'm working yet more dirt to plant more plants. Over a long sunny weekend, I might make it out for one run, or I might spend most of that time in my backyard. That space surrounding me is so much bigger than I'd ever thought it would be.
This, I think, is how those grounded people I met along my own way must have felt. I'm getting there.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.