By Gretchen Wehmhoff

I gently push five or six yogurt cups aside to make room for my bowl of soup,  then carefully slide around a box filled with jars, used paper coffee cups and applesauce containers to sit on the only empty chair by the table.

It is spring and every free space in the dining and living room is a mini garden. 

The season starts slowly with a few cardboard boxes lined with trash bags filled with bagged soil. A week later buds are being separated into any container Joe can find.  

I see my favorite ceramic pie dish holding three leaky containers with baby plants leaning towards the sun. Next to it is the glass top of the blender that bit the dust after 25 years. The plant in it reaches nearly to the top. 

This is Joe’s thing. He inherited his green thumb. His mom was a magician with plants. I swear she and the plants had a special code for each other. She looked forward to their blossoms, and they delivered bountifully every year.  

Even though we are both home, our time together is interrupted with work obligations and my recent, unplanned jump back into politics. The other day, in the midst of teaching, working on the newspaper and campaigning from my home office down the hall, I came out to refill my coffee cup. Rounding the corner to the kitchen, I paused. 

Joe was carefully selecting each tiny string of a plant and giving it room to grow in another container. He didn’t see me. He looked so peaceful and content.  He was in his element and I didn’t want to spoil the moment.  He looked up at me, smiled, then reached for another delicate green bit of life.

Every plant he is growing will be a vegetable that will hopefully make it to our dinner table as a full grown pile of nutrition.

Joe has the green thumb. I don’t. He really can’t trust me to take care of them. I can keep them watered, but I don’t know what to do as they grow. I have had some success. I kept a cactus alive for two months, and, as a child, I had a few African violets, but I’m pretty sure my parents kept a better eye on them than I did. That’s about it for me other than successful crops of dandelions and a marigold I raised in the second grade. 

This is the time of year we talk about the greenhouse we will build, the planter boxes we meant to build and why the plants are growing so fast. We’ll repeat the conversation next year.

I’m pretty sure this scene is not unique. Living in Alaska requires so many plants to be started ahead of time – indoors – long before the ground is warm enough to nurture them. Raise your hand if this scene resembles your living room.

While we were cleaning out cars after the snow receded from the driveway and the temperatures topped 40 degrees, I shared my ideas for flowers. We could plant bright nasturtiums in a rusty cement drum, quaint patches of Livingstone daisies in a rockery and wild Alaska flowers surrounded by forget-me-nots in a broken dresser. Maybe I can make it happen this year. Actually, maybe WE can make it happen this year. Without Joe, I’ll just be dreaming.