A writer I know on Facebook a day or two ago asked their ‘friends’ (a once-clear term which now requires qualifying apostrophes) what they did when they weren’t writing. Several people replied that they watched television. A little self-consciously, I answered that I enjoy cooking; that I read, often a good deal. I pore over my collection of maps and atlases sometimes, armchair-traveling the world; I love Google Street View, especially using it to visit Mexico where people throng the streets and stately plazas, and every house sings with colour. I frequently take walks, and go to the gym usually four times a week. I play the guitar. And in the last couple of months, when not busy with CAD work, my day job, I’ve been spending a lot of time working in the garden.
The back yard of our 1950s suburban rental has a large, red-brick patio mounded and warped by the roots of a couple of large trees. It gets a good deal of shade, welcome on the scorching days of the East Bay summer, and is a delightful place to enjoy a meal alone or with friends in the evenings as the day cools.
Both Linda and I have a put a lot of work into the yard. It was a barren, squalid place when we moved in three years ago, with broken beds of bare, tired earth surrounding the weed-infested brick. We moved yards of earth at first, and Linda built low decorative walls with the round river rocks that were strewn everywhere. She uncovered a brick path at one end of the garden that had been buried, probably for many years. I restored the beds, removing the most rotten planks and shoring up with new ones, turning the heavy, black clay and digging in hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of soil amendment.
The first thing to go in was a kitchen garden for fresh herbs; after that came flower bulbs, mostly cheery daffodils and showy gladiolus. We drilled holes in the bottom of an old concrete pond basin and turned it into a pansy preserve. I moved a sad, unproductive rose bush from where some idiot had planted it in the shady driveway to a sun-drenched corner of one of the beds, and added three new rose bushes to keep it company. We planted more bulbs, iris and tulip, and shade flowers on one of the more sheltered beds, and added some petunias and snapdragon. The geraniums thrive, the hydrangea is picky and difficult. I’m learning all of this on the fly, and experienced gardeners will doubtless laugh, but it makes me very happy. And Linda has fresh cut flowers every day.
So I don’t get television when there’s so much else that’s pleasurable in life. We have one, but it’s not connected to anything other than a DVD and VHS player. We watch the odd film or British period drama in the evening sometimes, and that’s it. I’d no more have cable in the house than walk into a roomful of people with Ebola. It’s a matter of psychic peace and hygiene (not to mention physiological health, since watching TV induces something very close to a vegetative state, while reading requires active engagement and keeps the mind limber; plus the pictures are so much better). How people can stand to have the thing burbling away all the time, I can’t begin to comprehend; and the notion of having a TV in the bedroom fills us both with loathing.
Here are some more pictures of our garden.