The busier we get, the more I don’t know.
Well, that’s not quite right. It’s not that the sheer volume of what I don’t know increases, it’s only that I become painfully aware of it. Every time I go to do something, I trip over it.
Take gardening. There’s so much to not know! It started in February. When do we put the lettuce seeds in? When do we start the kale and the collards? Where do we put the blueberry bushes? Do we fertilize the overwinter garlic and, if so, how? How deep do the asparagus go? How far apart do we put the potatoes?
There’s so much to not know!
This list goes on and on. I thought we learned a few things about gardening last year – start the beets right in the ground, put the cucumbers where they can climb, don’t plant anything in the dead zone just to the right of the garden – but it turns out there’s still plenty to not know.
Then there’s fishing. Where are the stripers? When should we go out for them? What kind of bait should we use? Is it warm enough for the trout in the pond? Are the scup here yet? Is a false albacore really inedible?
There’s also lots of miscellaneous stuff to not know. Why is the fuel filter on the boat filling up with water? What the hell’s the matter with the leaf blower? What kind of bird is that?
I don’t know plenty about chickens and about bees, about building a wood-fired oven and about growing mushrooms. The things I do know something about – nutrition, Victorian fiction, the New York City subway system – don’t seem to come into play.
Although I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn the things I don’t know – by reading, by talking to people, by getting documentaries from Netflix – if I waited for definitive answers, I’d never get anything done. Spring, for me, has become the season of improvisation.
Back in New York, my mother knew a woman at her gym who had lived with her boyfriend for fourteen years, and was agonizing about whether she should marry him. Fourteen years, and she was still afraid she didn’t have enough information. Fourteen years! At the same gym, there was another woman who had met her husband on a blind date and gotten married, that night, on a dare. They’d been together thirty years.
We seldom get to make decisions with perfect information. Most things we do require a leap of faith. Sometimes you just have to say what the hell, and hope you’re not making a really big mistake.
The thing about our ventures here, though, is that it’s not possible to make a really big mistake. Marry the wrong person, it could be a really big mistake. Plant the potatoes too close together, it barely registers on the “mistake” scale. Nobody’s going to die on the table.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve developed a what-the-hell attitude toward gardening, or fishing, or beekeeping. I want my ventures to be successful, and the plants and animals in my care to thrive. But I’ve figured out that no amount of information will guarantee success in a world so variable. I devote reasonable energy to learning what I can, and then I take a guess. What the hell.
So far, we’ve had very few flat-out mistakes. The root beer, of course, was a total flop. Last year’s garden didn’t do so well, but that may have had more to do with the weather than with our gardening decisions. So far, we haven’t hunted anything successfully. The wood-fired oven is proving more difficult than I thought, but I think we’ll make it work in the end.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had some smashing successes. Kevin’s chicken coop came out great. We’re very bullish on our dandelion wine. Our shiitakes are excellent, we’ve gotten much better at trout fishing, and we caught a bunch of lobsters last season. And the sea salt! Everybody loves the sea salt.
So, we planted the asparagus twelve inches deep, spaced the potatoes a foot apart, fertilized the garlic with greensand, put the blueberry bushes next to the porch, planted the kale and collards despite a frost warning, fished for stripers in North Bay with green Storm shad runners, got a new vent for the boat’s gas tank, and threw out the fucking leaf blower. We’ll see how it all works out, but I can tell you right now that nobody’s going to die on the table. Sometimes you just have to say what the hell.
Perhaps it was because I was emboldened by our successes, motivated by this season of improvisation, working on momentum from so many decisions, that I took a drastic step.
If there’s a bright line between harmless eccentric and certified crackpot, this probably pushed me over it.
I cut my own hair.
Kevin was perfectly ready to say what the hell when the decision was about the blueberry bushes or the shad runners, but he was a little concerned about this one. “You can’t cut your own hair,” he said when I got out the scissors. “It’s the first step to Creedmore.” But when I first got it cut short I didn’t budget for a monthly maintenance haircut, so there was no help for it.
On a good day, I look a little like Bob Dylan. On a bad day, I look more like a toilet brush. But, hey, nobody died on the table.