Clearing Out The Clutter


January 09, 1994|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

As a kid, I lived for summer vacation. I couldn't wait to get outside and play in the dirt with my little toy soldiers.

Now my life has changed. My playthings have gone from toys to tools. I'm older, slower. I can't always see the ground when I look straight down.

As an adult, I look forward to winter and a respite from outdoor chores.

Come winter, I'm tired of weeding and raking and hoeing and mowing. Tired of battling bugs and slugs. Tired of digging through garden texts to find cures for plant diseases I cannot pronounce.

Let the flower beds freeze, my job is done. School is out.

No more grasses, no more books, no more creatures' dirty looks.

Is that any way for a plant lover to act? It sure is. Even gardeners need a break now and then.

However, we're a lot like schoolkids. Vacation is great, but boredom comes quickly. Past failures are soon forgotten. Several weeks into winter, I am already moping around the house, swinging my shovel like a baseball bat and wishing it were spring.

This month is the most boring of all. Until the arrival of the new seed catalogs -- the male gardener's answer to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition -- there is simply nothing to do.

Unless I clean up the Nature Nook.

The Nature Nook is my corner of the basement, a dusty little area bulging with flowerpots, bags of sterilized soil, fluorescent plant lights and a clutter of other garden supplies. On its best day, the Nature Nook resembles a junkyard. Yet here, each year, I manage to sweep aside enough debris to raise a few hundred plants from seed.

The problem is, I rarely stop to clean up. Come spring, gardeners burst outdoors with the maniacal single-mindedness of a football team taking the field for a big game. Mother Earth beckons. Nothing else matters, least of all a little mess in the basement.

But the mess grows . . . and grows . . . and GROWS. Over time, the Nature Nook becomes a sidecar for the garden shed. When the shed fills with junk, toss the rest in the cellar.

This time, I fear, I've gone too far. I can't even see the fluorescent plant lights, or the table beneath them that serves as the nursery. They are hidden by a pile of debris that is scraping the ceiling. A 6-foot tower of dirty pots sways left, then right, with the entrails (roots) of long-gone plants still caked to their sides.

Yes, it's time to straighten up. I have no choice. This heap of man-made clutter isn't compost that will simply melt away.

I attack the pile with gusto, plus a broom. Oops! I trip over the garden hose coiled on the floor. Entangled in the hose, I lunge forward, toppling the stack of plastic pots that rain down on my head.

Sprawled on the floor, I can only wonder: Who rigged this trap, the kid in "Home Alone"?

I sweep the pots aside and plow ahead, only to scatter a row of baby food jars that were stored on the floor. The jars contained leftover seeds I'd hoped to sow this spring. I'd still like to plant those seeds, if I can pick them out of the broken glass.

I sweep the jars aside, tiptoe forward and walk smack into a cobweb. By now I've started talking to myself. "Spiders are good, spiders are good," I mumble. But I can't help feeling like I'm trying to fight my way into the Addams Family's greenhouse.

Nonetheless, I forge ahead, past 50-pound bags of limestone and peat moss and a clunky old mower that died in 1983. Some of my discoveries are useful, like the brand-new garden gloves I thought I'd lost, and the nozzle gun that disappeared from the garden hose. Now I can stop using my poor thumb as a sprayer.

Finally, I near my goal. The plant table is just ahead. The fluorescent plant lights are shimmering brightly. What, I left them plugged in all these months?

Not for naught. On the plant table I find Weet Weet, our cat, basking in the warmth of the plant lights.

Somehow Weet Weet squeezed through the obstacle course and made the table her tanning salon.

She can stay for now. Tomorrow both cat and clutter are out of here.

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