“The obstacle is the path.”
Was it Ben Franklin, Confucius or Will Rogers who said it? I’m not sure, but the garden can be a pretty great place to experience this somber truth.
Perhaps like me, you’ve had a lovely vision of some pretty flowers blooming in a bare patch of ground. You can imagine the beautiful landscape in your mind, and all you have to do is engage in a little cultivating and planting.
You decide to do a simple little project and sow some flower seeds in a modest swath of dirt.
People successfully plant seeds every day! you tell yourself. What could possibly go wrong?
Five Square Feet of Hell
The patch of dirt I wanted to cultivate was small – roughly one foot wide by five feet long. My vision? To grow some colorful Cosmos. The Sensation Mix seed packet held such promise:
After pulling all the weeds, the next step was to “loosen” the dirt. With every dig, though, the shovel hit rocks. The entire little 5-foot swath was chock-full o’ rocks.
Clink, clink, clink…..
About two inches in, I discovered a long root running nearly the length of my little dirt patch. A long, long root. A long, stubborn root that sloped down 18 inches and did not want to come out, even when I tugged on it with all my weight. Twenty minutes of hacking later, I finally got it free.
Clink, clink, clink…..
What have we here?
This Bad Boy ran right through the middle of my little 5-foot planting area. I looked west and traced it to my neighbor’s 40-foot Ponderosa pine tee.
I dug all around it, got the saw, and prepared to make a test cut and see how hard the root might be to remove. I knelt in the dirt and brandished my saw, when suddenly…
I felt a sharp pain on my ankle. Yanking up my pant leg, I discovered an army of ants climbing my pale shin like Mont Blanc. Another ant bit, this time in the wristband of my gardening gloves. And then another, at my waist.
I had somehow enraged an entire ant colony. They were crawling all over me. They had already gotten inside my shirt. They were in my hair! They were fast, angry little ants!
A Hasty Exit
Picture Elaine dancing on Seinfeld and you’ll get a mental image of the twisting, gyrating motions I employed trying to fling the ants off me as I sprinted far, far away from the back yard.
After showering in scalding water, shampooing my hair three times, and incinerating my pants and shirt, I cautiously ventured back to the garden.
There I discovered our dog Scout lying in the half-cultivated soil.
The ants didn’t seem to bother him a bit.
But because Scout comes from a long line of digging hounds, I realized he would probably not be able to resist the allure of a freshly planted garden. I would need to figure out some way to keep him out, without spending money to fix this newest roadblock.
At this point, a smarter, less stubborn woman might have postponed the project, or perhaps chosen a new spot to plant seeds, or tossed down the tools and driven to The Shag Lounge.
The friggin’ obstacle is the path, I muttered as I picked up my shovel. The obstacle is the friggin’ path.
An Imperfect Solution
In nearly every case, when a project or repair comes up at this house I try to do the fix right. Our Pop raised us this way. But this time was different.
This time, I decided to leave that old tree root running right through the middle of the garden. The physical labor required to remove it was too great, and the payoff too small. I like my neighbor’s sturdy tree and didn’t want to harm its root. Besides, the ants had returned to their subterranean home.
I sifted through the dirt, removed all the rocks, and arranged them neatly to take a picture so you could see the impressive yield.
I mixed compost in the dirt and spread it back. I watered and raked. I planted the small black seeds and covered them with 1/4 inch of soil.
It bothered my OCD tendencies, it really did, but I left a six-inch gap in the middle of the garden unseeded where the tree root lies below the surface.
I rummaged around in the shed and found some old fencing, which I jerry-rigged around the little garden to keep the dog out.
And then, finally, I poured a cold drink, put my feet up and ignored the angry red welts on my ankle. I was happily unaware that for the next three days, whenever I felt the slightest little thread or hair I would freak out and think an ant was on me.
In the End…
The obstacle is the path. It’s an adage that can break my heart, just reading the words.
In real life, it might mean that we decide to go to counseling and work on a marriage, or we sacrifice hard to finally get out from under the weight of our debt, or we choose to walk with a loved one through their addiction.
And maybe a long, long way down the road we look back and see how we grew, and how we have more empathy now, and how grace was everywhere.
It’s not how I would do things if I was in charge, but it seems like we each have to forge some ridiculously hard, obstacle-ridden paths.
How About You?
What hardships are you dealing with right now? Have you faced roadblocks — in the garden or elsewhere? I invite you to leave a comment below or write me at mail @ elizacross.com. I love to hear your thoughts and stories.
Only time will tell whether the seeds I planted sprout and grow. For this story, maybe the saying should be:
The path to making a garden might be filled with rocks and roots and ants.
Plant a garden anyway.
Grateful thanks to Skyseeker for the use of the pretty Cosmos image above.
6 thoughts on “That Time I Had Ants in My Pants, and Other Obstacles”
OHMYWORD Eliza, I’m so sorry! YOUCH those tiny little critters bite hard!!!! Way to go with your determination, I fear I would have given up much earlier! You ROCK (many, little uncovered rocks as a matter of fact). I did the same thing whilst living in Germany, helping my host family do some weeding, I quickly discovered fire ants as they quickly crawled, bit, crawled FAST and bit fast. I’m sure I too looked like Elaine from Seinfeld. I’m pretty sure I drew a hot bath with some baking soda to ease the stings, I feel your pain!
Ha ha ha! This account is hilarious! It so perfectly decribes the novice gardening experience. Well, one of them anyway, like my first foray into vegetable gardening…
Hi, Cyd! Thanks so much for stopping by to say hello all the way from Oslo, Norway. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with gardening, and one of these days I would love to hear your vegetable gardening tale! Hugs to you from Colorado. xo
Kathleen, I want to hear more about your time in Germany! I’m sorry to hear that we have an ant-biting tale in common, though. I am going to remember the baking soda bath idea (if I ever venture back to that corner of the garden again). You ROCK, too! xoxo
Good post — I do know of a book “The Obstacle is the Way” (http://theobstacleistheway.com/) written by Ryan Holiday. I thought the saying derived from ancient Roman times but good sayings are hard to pin on the original author…
Woman you are a hardy sort and I’m glad you didn’t take a saw to the pine tree root. Sorry about the ants, and what I keep hearing in my head is Z (from the movie Antz) saying. “It is for the colony.” Besides, there is NO such thing as a patch of ground without some roots belonging to some plant. One thing I do want to share — about obstacles in my garden…
One time, I was doing what you were doing (bed preparation) and at 18 inches down in the soil I hit a layer of black plastic — thick and ruinous to any good soil or root development. I spent hours (days) getting rid of it and my yard breathed a sigh of relief. What a terrible barrier thick black plastic is and was. Judging from the depth of the plastic it was possible used 60-65 years back. Today, weed cloths that breathe and allow water to percolate is a better idea. I prefer topping my garden beds with thick mulch, like mini bark, and I mean thick.
But I digress from my original point that I wanted to say to you. A packet of Cosmos seeds will be a gift that keeps on giving. Once your pink cosmos bloom (later on in August) let the flowers dry on the stalks through fall, then give them a few shakes to drop the seeds onto the soil, and next spring you will be pleasantly surprised when your Cosmos sprout again. And some will be blown by the wind and sprout up elsewhere in your yard. You can also save some of your seeds from a few dried flowers and put them into little packets for safe keeping and planting elsewhere — you will save $2.99 ;)
Heather, thank you for all of your great thoughts, and for sharing your story about your own garden excavation. Digging out that black plastic sounds like a big, big job. I like your description that your yard “breathed a sigh of relief” when you were done. I appreciate your seed saving tips for the Cosmos, too! xo