How To Start Over

I planted apple trees today. They arrived a couple weeks before we were to move. I had ordered them last summer and forgotten about them entirely. However, I had no intention of putting them in the ground that would soon be yet another past garden. Not least because I didn’t have time to do that. So I threw them on the truck, only halfway intending to plant them. I had no reason to think they would survive storage and a move. And yet, I planted apple trees today. Four of the five have leaves. One is blooming. I have no idea if there will be apples, but I have trees.

This is the fifth garden I’ve begun as an adult. There were a couple as a kid as well, but I didn’t design them as much as just put stuff in the ground where I could. Mostly strawberries. And lavender. I’ve planted lavender my entire life, I think. But this is the fifth I’ve begun with a plan. Much less of a plan than is usual for me though. No sketches. No detailed plant spreadsheet lists with bloom times, plant forms, colors, and needs all neatly tabulated. No estimates of yield and arrangements for processing and storing the harvest. Not this time. I have some vague ideas and that’s about it.

This is the garden I did not intend to make. The last one was supposed to be it. I am glad that it is not. I did not like that place and it did not like me. But I put quite a bit of planning into that one and I haven’t yet managed to shift gears. While I was planting the apple trees that inadvertently moved with me, I thought about that. And I think there should be a how-to on starting over.

Think about that. We’re in an era of nearly continual flux. The likelihood that you will face an unexpected restart is very high. There are so many vectors for total life-change. Fire, flood, ice, drought, sickness, job loss, crazy humans. Statistically speaking, if you will be alive for at least another two decades, it is rather unlikely that you won’t have to start over. Maybe more than once. If you are looking at half a century of living, you may be facing many restarts. And humans are just not very good at having plans derailed. We are the planning species, after all.

So here is my advice for starting over. I’m sure there are other tips for do-overs, but this small list is pretty broadly useful.

1) Be ready for it. Don’t plan for twenty years out. Or if you do, don’t put too much hope or effort into those distant days. Be ready for change. Be emotionally ready to scrap those plans and make new ones. Be physically ready, that is, have resources on hand that will adapt to new conditions. Plan generically. Maybe even vaguely. Have goals, not necessarily concrete steps to meet those goals. And be ready to change those goals also. Always be ready to start over.

2) Focus on routines and daily living. Make frameworks that can hang on any living situation. For example, I make much of the food I eat. Yogurt, bread, soups and stews, various sauces, jams and preserves. Plus the garden. These are all routines that I can enact anywhere to meet my needs. I can make yogurt in almost any setting once I’ve figured out where to get the milk. So in this new life, there is continuity. I may be living completely differently with very different plans, but I still have these routines, these daily things that I do no matter where I am. This is me, no matter where I am. Starting over is not a complete disruption if I still do these things each day. Find your own routines, the things that you do, and focus on those. In particular, really learn what you are doing so that you can do it in all sorts of novel conditions.

3) Do what you want to do. This is a new beginning. It may be involuntary. It may be ghastly. But it is a way to clear all your accounts. If you have lived a while, you have some pretty big accounts now run to zero. This is terrifying, I know. But do not forget that it is also liberating. There are no claims on your future when you start over. So do what you want. Aim for what you want to get out of life. This is how you are going to motivate yourself to face changes you did not want — by pursuing something you do want.

4) Let things go. Don’t become attached to much of anything. This is the hardest thing for me. I like my people. I like my place. I like my stuff. It all has meaning to me; it feels a part of me. But starting over means almost all of that will be lost. New people, new place, maybe new stuff (maybe no stuff… I’m getting to that age…). But the old still has a claim on my heart that I must learn to relinquish. Let it all go. Know that whatever comes along next will be just as meaningful, just as much a part of life, just as good.

And that’s it. That’s my list. It’s vague. It’s generalized. It’s endlessly adaptable. Which are all qualities needed to begin again.

So I’ve planted the accidental apple trees. I’ve got ideas about the perennial beds. I’ve got chiles on order. I think there will be hydrangeas and climbing roses. And there’s this abandoned corner lot up the street behind my house that is just begging for a large vegetable patch. This is the new garden plan. I think it will turn out grand.

Though… I’m pretty sure there will be spreadsheets before the end of the summer.

©Elizabeth Anker 2021