I spent the summer of 2003 working in Bethel, Alaska. Bethel is a rural city and close-knit community in the south-western part of the state. I house-sat for a family I'd found through the local newspaper and made a few friends. One afternoon, someone invited me to a barbeque and told me to grab some lettuce from the family's garden on my way over. The garden was in a hollowed-out skiff, and many unrecognizable-to-me green things were blooming in there. I suddenly discovered I had no idea what lettuce looked like growing in a garden, so I just made my best guess and grabbed a handful of random leaves. While walking to my friend's place, I saw a guy coming the other way wearing heavy ear protection, ostensibly for construction or boat work. My first thought was, "what the hell is a hip-hop DJ doing in Bethel?" Between failing to recognize lettuce in the wild and thinking I'd just scoped Swizz Beatz tromping across the Alaskan tundra, it began to dawn on me that I was seriously out of my element.
By the end of the summer, I knew I wanted to return to Alaska and wrote my mom a long letter on the flight home explaining why. I don't recall every detail of the letter, but a running theme was learning new things and doing new things, both of which I've had to do plenty of since moving here. I'm still really bad at gardening though. Nowadays, everyone has a garden. Because if you don't have a garden, you're totally lame, even (or perhaps especially), in Brooklyn. Also, you're eating your salad with pesticide dressing and will perish in the Zombie Apocalypse for lack of self-sufficiency. And if you don't have egg-laying chickens, well, as Cee-Lo Green would say, FORGET you. Just climb into a time-machine and return to 2004 where you belong--and take your filthy, non-cage-free, store-bought eggs with you. Understand that my family had plants growing up, but they were all cacti because everything else was too much work and died.
Today we have two plants in our house, one of which is a cactus, and both of which are well on their way to The Great Garden in the Sky. When people visit us, they cluck their tongues disapprovingly and insist on watering our two dying plants. Last summer was our first attempt at a garden. My family--which included two children under age 7--tended to the garden with diligence, enthusiasm, and apparent competence. I, on the other hand, surveyed the scene from the porch, fearful and intimidated and sheepishly eating a bowl of Cinnamon Rice Chex. I think kale and potatoes came out of our garden eventually, and maybe some chard, whatever that is. I'm not sure, and I don't really want to find out.