In the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s 1984 soared onto bestseller lists, as did Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which also hit TV screens in a storm of publicity. Zombies, fascists, and predators of every sort are now stalking the American imagination in ever-greater numbers and no wonder, given that guy in the Oval Office. Certainly, 2017 is already offering up a bumper crop of dystopian possibilities and we’ve only reached July. But let me admit one thing: The grim national mood and the dark clouds crowding our skies have actually nudged me in a remarkably positive direction. Surprise of all surprises, Donald Trump is making the corn grow in Connecticut!
Maybe I’d better explain.
My kids and I planted corn seeds in a square bed in our front yard this spring. Really, they just dumped the kernels in the ground and stared expectantly, waiting for them to grow. Three hundred corn plants seemed to germinate overnight, crowding each other out as they worked to reach the sun. I’ve been steadily thinning the clumps into rows and now we have a neat line of a dozen or so corn plants, each just about three feet high, along with lettuce, kale, collards, peas, basil, and a few tomato plants in a four foot by four foot raised bed. The kids—Madeline, 3, and Seamus, 4—visit “their” corn plants, name them, argue over whose are whose, and generally delight in their bona fides as Connecticut corn growers.
It’s all part of a (somewhat incoherent) plan of mine that’s turned most of our front yard over to vegetables this year, including more tomatoes sprouting beside that raised bed along with plenty of cilantro. We have a fig tree, too, and apple trees, blueberry bushes, even a Shinto plum in back of the house along with a little potato patch and more herbs of various sorts. It’s a fertile little urban oasis.
For water supplies, I went as far as to install rain barrels at our downspouts, which tend to quickly fill to the brim whenever we get a half-decent rain and then cause moisture problems in the basement as water begins to gush out of their mosquito-proof tops. I worry about those barrels whenever I go away, but also feel a strange pride when I water my vegetable patches from them instead of the hose. If I stop to think about it, however, they drive home the point even better than a haphazard row of jaunty corn: I have no idea what I’m doing.
That’s not the end of the world, though, is it? This spring, as the political scene turned from truly bad to criminally bad, I began to see how not knowing what you’re doing could be a legitimate path, if not to power, then to resistance—and therapeutic as well.
Seriously, it was therapeutic to dig and plant, weed and water. It was healing to do that with my kids, to hear them teaching each other about a world of growing things, to watch them go from grossed out to awed by worms and beetles, to see them bend their noses almost to the earth to follow the wiggly movements of such creatures. We’re now picking peas from plants that grew from seeds Seamus planted in little cups at the end of his school year. Every time we come home, he says, “Daddy, look at how tall my peas are!” and he runs over to trace their curly tendrils as they climb the twines we tied.