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Planting Radish Seeds: a healing update from Gimp City


a bunch of 6  red and white radishes, washed clean of dirt, with their top leaves intact
french breakfast radishes

With a great deal of assistance from my spouse-person Stephen, who generously does ALL of the heavy lifting at home, I was able to plant dahlias, peas, violas, and radishes. The beginning of gardening in bins on the deck. I'm still recovering from a recent spine surgery and can't do any of the soil prep, even making 1/4 inch deep furrows and dropping in the radish seeds was challenging. Next time I may use the trowel instead of my finger to shorten the reaching, but honestly I just wanna get my hands dirty! So I persist. And when I can't abide the effort of making my arms go for a moment longer, I retreat to the sink to scrub under my nails. And then to the recliner, in defeat.


If someone else does almost all of the labor then I can plant radishes and whatever else for about 20 minutes. There is no puttering. I can't shift flowerpots or pull invaders, or even reach to move dead leaves. I look at the way the weeds have crowded out my perennial beds and sigh. I was 39 the first time I had spine surgery, parenting full time with three young kids. I had big plans for the yard back then. I have been adapting and letting go and adapting and letting go for over 20 years now (and 4 more incision scars). This time, even though I know its early days yet, the difficulty of using my arms, however gently, causes a sadness that hasn't got words, even for me.


Surgery that mucks about in your central nervous system has expected and unexpected residual outcomes. When I woke from this surgery and settled into consciousness I noticed right away that my left fist was clenched, hand curled in at the wrist and pressing against the side of my belly like a small animal seeking warmth. It still happens, along with a tremor in my right hand when I've over done it, signals that I've spent too long at the edge of my reach and should retreat to rest. Procedures in the cervical spine (neck) can express these residual effects anywhere those nerves go, and especially in the limbs. An intense desire to postpone changes to the usefulness of my arms and hands caused me to delay this surgery for 7 years. I'd been doubting the wisdom of waiting, but now that I know what I know about living in my own skin, I am glad for making the choice to put it off.


My inherited genetic irregularity offers the predicament of having seen what it means to age with this unnamed spine disease. Its also true that I've inherited a fair measure of resilience and a capacity to take it all in stride. I write that word, stride, and a silhouette of my dad the farmer crosses my inner screen, his stooped shadow striding through a field after a day of picking rock (Mainers will understand). We just keep doing what we can do, he'd say to me now, he always left the rest of the sentence unspoken, until we can't.


The trick is taking it slow… and then slower still. Its all a body physics puzzle. Every time I go to scratch my head I am reminded that my neck and shoulders have been rewired. I'm building new neural networks so that relocated muscles catch the signal and get to work. They have been sewn to new ligament and bone contact points, each muscle works a wee bit differently than before. There is a significant learning curve for something as simple as holding my head up while I type.


The more important learning curve is recognizing when my body has had enough and must move differently or rest. Often this moment comes well before I am done with whatever I was hoping to accomplish. I find myself rushing through tasks. Now that I've returned to work there are some tight places to navigate. For instance, changing clothes in the car in a parking garage, switching from my sitting-in-the-rain Maypole dance gear to (more elegant) garb appropriate for presiding at a Celebration of Life. I got stuck with the dress pulled halfway over my head, trying to keep from flashing my boobs while I figured out how to use my arms to detangle myself. It got a little frantic even before I realized I could not rush inside and be 'on'. First I had to rest, compose myself, take a Tylenol. And then literally talk to my body about Our Plan in the challenging venue I was about to enter. Mapping in my mind's eye the absurdly long hall to the lobby, the distance to the elevators, the ride up 11 floors. Planning for ways to accommodate the need to sit out of the way for a few minutes in order to compose a gracious professional demeanor. Survival basics in Gimp City.


If I make the plan, then actually follow the plan (and I did), I can bring my full presence to my work. This Celebration of Life was local, my husband and daughter came, many neighbors, and the woman we celebrated was beloved by all. Only my husband noticed the effort I made to hold my body upright, to move gracefully, to speak with appropriate cadence and flow.


What I have learned from surgeries over the years is that the sooner I get myself up and moving, the sooner I'll find the boundaries imposed by muscle relocation. Once I know how to dance with it all, I can explore the life hacks that will make it bearable to be so changed. Meanwhile, the tools closest to hand are re-earthing and plant spirit medicine; getting seeds in the soil, listening for returning hummingbirds, and reveling in the scent of the woods after a rain.


Stephen gave me a dozen bins on the deck to play in. In a week and a half I'll add a second planting of little radish seeds. In the days between, in 20 minute bursts of angst and pleasure, I'll plant bunching onions, 2 kinds of cukes, a trinity of string bean colors, some okra and plenty of flowers for the bees. One whole bin will be a new herb garden. I'm thinking birdhouse gourds, cantaloup, and potatoes will make for good experiments. My best laid plans may all be well beyond my capacity, but hey, a gal can dream! And the promise of fresh-from-the-dirt french breakfast radishes makes all the effort worthwhile.

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