So, I’ve graduated. I have a degree – two actually. I have officially felt the comfortable, welcoming screen door of dependence close behind me, knocking as its springs settle. I think I’m still on the porch, looking out into the big expanse. I see big city lights and wind-swept seas, rolling fields and crowded streets, clusters of community and quiet solitude. All this and I’m still just staring, knowing that a few steps down I’m on my own. I feel like one of those blinking dots on a radar screen, wandering around with a little less identity tied to me and a lot less security. I don’t even have insurance right now. I also don’t have a job. Which, amazingly, has not sent me tailspinning into confusion and hyper-active mode, but instead into a joyous search for a beautiful thing called “odd jobs". Yep, I posted my first ever personal ad on our college marketplace website. It read something like this:
BABYSITTER, HOUSE-SITTER, ODD JOBS: I am a recent graduate and looking for work in the Holland area. I love kids and the outdoors and I have my lifeguard and first-aid certificates. I have extensive experience with children of all ages. I am also a very hard worker.
Well, I waited and waited and got one response. I now randomly babysit a couple hours for two adorable little ones. The funny thing with odd-jobs is 1. you’re never sure you’re going to have work and 2. one random job isn’t really enough.
So, I did my own perusal of wanted ads on the college website and just a week before I graduated I found the perfect job: weed picking. Not just any weed, though. An alien plant called garlic mustard. This was originally an herb brought over from Europe for medicinal purposes, but its introduction onto American soil went awry when it neither provided any beneficial remedies nor gave any hint of being contained. Apparently, the weevils in Europe keep the resilient beast under control, but there is no such willing herbivore west of the Atlantic. As sad as this sounds, I was actually quite pleased with the predicament, because it provided me temporary employment! I instantly budgeted for what was advertised as a month of work at $12/hr and saw the cartoon dollar signs leap from my eyes. But, before a week had ended, we (there were others responding to this cry for help) had picked ourselves right out of a job. We were relentless, though. We knew the season ended in May, so I made flyers – an article telling of the horrible fate of garlic mustard infested forests and the names of experienced and willing garlic mustard pickers. I didn’t hear any replies, but it was a commendable effort!
Pleasant Biking turned Tour de la Holland
One ambitious morning, I decided to make the 20 minute car ride into 1 hour and 15 minutes biking to get to my temporary weed job. What a beautiful idea for a spring morning! My friend Tricia thought otherwise, once we were about 30 minutes into it – so many hills! She kept motioning for me to go on ahead, but how could I after I had conned her into making the trip with me? We finally made our way to the garlic mustard forest, winded, but ready to pick with a fury. Tricia had already decided biking back was not an option – at the end of the day she was opting for the passenger seat. Me, on the other hand, I had on the brightest of bright grins as I swung my leg over my sister-in-law’s mountain bike. I never did know why I choose to mount a bike like I was getting on a horse, it probably has something to do with the bikes always being slightly too big.
Anyway, I had my headphones in and I was thoroughly enjoying the scenery when I randomly decided to think about the day – a Tuesday. Tuesday and almost 4:00 and I’m biking my way down the lakeshore. Tuesday, 4:00. All of a sudden, as I was repeating the time to myself I realized that I was supposed to BE somewhere at 4:00 on Tuesday. It wasn’t just any commitment either, it was watching children! I immediately freaked out and called Tricia in a panic and asked her to meet me on the road. Meanwhile, I called my friend (who I was standing in babysitting for) and asked her to call the house so the girls would know I’d be just a tad late. THEN, in all my huffing and anxiety, I got a call from Austin, Texas wanting to make sure the 4:00 interview time was still going to work. I managed to keep my cool and calmly ask for a reschedule for the next day. When I got off that phone call, I was asking myself, “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?” Everything was going so well, until I realized I’d left half my mind in the middle of all that garlic mustard. I wonder what they ever meant by medicinal herb.
Well, in any case, Tricia got me to their house, where the girls had only been home a few minutes (PTL). We unloaded my bike and I collapsed for a short moment, before helping with spelling, piano, and baritone. When the parents arrived, I mounted my fast friend and rode again – winding around bike paths and crossing busy intersections. I laughed over and over to myself – thinking how much enjoyment other people would have at the spectacle I’d become. When I finally reached home, I calculated that I must’ve been on that bike a total of 3 hours that day!Mulching Surprise
With the weeds cleared, I moved on to my calling as a gardener – a mulcher to be specific. My mentor found it in her heart to provide me with a couple days work laying mulch in her garden. To make things interesting – and slightly intimidating – my mentor is possibly the most dedicated and successful gardener I know. Her house stands out beautifully on her street and is the envy of any passers-by. But, she was asking me (an inexperienced admirer) to mulch! So, I was determined to learn quickly and adhere to the rules: generally 3 inches of mulch (more in the sunnier areas), but about 3 centimeters from the plants, and watch out for ground cover. I think I did a decent job, although half-way through I did start to worrying over the proper amount and distance and trenches and edging. I got over it, because, I didn’t really have any other option.
So – I suppose this is the funny part. I got real intense about this mulching business. I felt rustic with the ground under my knees and my garden-gloved hands gently spreading rich smelling bark in the flower beds. Every time I would come to a weed, I’d yank with accomplished finality, as if to say to the gnarly plant, “Hmmph!” I think having my hands deep in nature had the same effect as snapping beans back in my little Chicago apartment last October – useful, productive, things as they ought to be. Anyway, I was intense. So intense, that I think minutes would go by without my looking up from my work. I was working on a certain area, spreading and adding just so when I saw a spot needing attention around the corner. I aptly moved with determination – even swiftly, I might say – right around that corner and BAM! I felt a punch deep in my left cheekbone. I mean, it really penetrated and after I opened my stunned eyes they grew real big and my face drew back. I was extremely confused at my encounter, after working by myself all morning I had yet to meet anything but my own sing-a-long voice to the music in my headphones. As my eyes got even bigger, I took in my adversary: the sturdy, wooden handle of the wheel barrow. I just sat for a moment with my hand on my cheek silently thinking that I could mumble some words to ease my folly and my opponent’s direct hit. Then my friend stopped by and I told her about my little scuffle. She instantly said, “I know, I can see it!” Later, I realized that not only was it noticeable, but I could’ve been in a bar fight, for the sad look of my left side!