|The new shelf|
I'm late. I needed to start my seeds—a few weeks ago, most likely. Is it already gardening time again? The weather here feels like spring. It's practically balmy. 44 degrees yesterday, sunny. I had on a light jacket as I moved about my chicken yard, dropping handfuls of compost for excited birds, who pounced on apple cores and soft tomatoes like they were plum puddings, kicking them around the yard. I have moved my little hen in with the other hens, leaving behind a chicken yard that will become a new garden bed this spring; its soil scratched up and fertilized, all the bugs picked out. I have empty palettes, and it's time to imagine what will fill them in.
|Our wee little kitchen. Imagine it without the shelf.|
A shelf! Suspended above the chest freezer, in my window. Yes, yes, right where I spend half my life. There I could have seed trays and nurse them with the tender care usually reserved for heart patients on a ward. I need space, I boomed. I walked around muttering. Space! And now.
In an effort to make his wife happy, or perhaps to silence her, my husband then began work on a seed-starting contraption: he bought lumber, sawed boards, and hauled it all in to assemble in its place, all with the enthusiasm of a pall-bearer crushed under the corner of a coffin as he marched. Perhaps there should be a support group for the partners of gardeners: a place where they can talk about the paces we put them through. Oh, hon, I just need you to make some row covers. Can you fix the watering system? I need you to build a box without stepping on my seedlings while you do.
At some point, though, as he was doing all this pacifying shelf-building, he looked over and saw his wife grimacing at him.
"What?" he demanded.
"It's just—really ugly..." I muttered.
Ugly, of course, is the last thing that matters to these men with nails and saws. What? It's going to hold seeds, right? You want it should like a Mona Lisa while it does?
"It doesn't go with with the kitchen," my mother explained. All this was lost in translation.
She was right. It looked like a big, stupid scaffolding hung from my ceiling. I like my kitchen. It's the least awful room in my house. My living room floor is unfinished, with vinyl still attached to the places where we pulled off linoleum. The front door jamb is unpainted. The back door is part duct tape and part glass. I like my kitchen. In my kitchen, I can imagine that I live in a nice house. If I just stayed there, I could almost feel something like pride. I need the seed shelf, though. Where else will I start tomatoes all the colors of balloons?
"I could paint it," I proposed.
A long conversation ensued about paint. White or green? Could I match the green of my counter tops? Did I need to sand? OK, I can paint it. It will be OK. I could have my seeds and my sense of pride as well. I couldn't help but feel I might be missing something, though.
I've lately been reading blogs about decorating with junk. It occurred to me rather suddenly to embrace the crate-like quality of the shelf. Was there a way to have it look intentionally trashy rather than accidentally so?
Stencils! I thought. I'll just make it look like that was the look I wanted all the time. I bought stencils.
"I want to hang herbs from the bottom to dry," I told my husband.
"You'd have to hang them from the side," he said. Of course I would.
Eureka! I purchased three antiqued brass rings for herb hanging attached to the side of the crate-shelf-blight.
All this done, maybe I've just inhaled something, but I actually like this shelf. It looks—chosen. And there's something to this choosing of things that end up hanging around bugging us, things we would rather do without.
Some people start with an empty house and imagine what they want. Then, they fill it in, piece by piece, building toward the effect that they hold perfectly in their mind. They can see it before they see it. They know where to put each piece. They know what to get. Some people start planning in high school. What do I want to be when I grow up? They take classes. They choose a college. They choose a career. Later, they marry and, much later, they have kids. They put each piece in place carefully. They build a real life from what they conceived of and planned for assiduously.
Myself, I start with a bunch of random objects. A couch someone gave us when they upgraded to a better one. Figurines that were presents to me over the years. Children's art—the kind of which the child is especially proud. Kachina dolls my husband had an idea he would sell and make some cash. I started with love and impulse and worked backwards to make all the pieces fit. Kids first, then marriage, and career not at all. This is my life. The life I love. Things happen and I work them in.
Things—and lives—are beautiful, I think, because we want them. When they're dusted and painted, when they're cared for, they belong. We find things to compliment them. We find ways to make them shine. We see them as belonging where they are.
Things out of place, by contrast, are things unchosen. Realities we'd rather not love because, in hating them, we hope that they will somehow disappear.
This making things beautiful is the art of taking what we're given, choosing it, and marking its beauty with the tender hands of love. It's easy once you see it, once the flaw becomes a strength, once you stop wishing for what you do not have.
A shelf, I think, is a really good place to start.