This Is Fine. is Broadly's weekly newsletter about the previously private and highly personal tactics people use to make the world less harrowing. In this week's newsletter, we're thrilled to publish a reader submission for the first time! This one comes from Caitlin Turner, who writes about gardening, both with and without a hangover, as a form of communion with the earth and one's own brain. Sign up here to receive a new essay about this kind dealing-with-life strategy from Broadly and This Is Fine each Sunday evening.
A few years ago, I sat in the yard, preoccupied by texting a friend about how I had conveniently left my wallet in a cab ride the night before, when my grandmother motioned for me to join her and pick fruit in the garden, an oasis of greenery, fruit, and flowers maintained for decades after she arrived from Cyprus to Australia. Since my grandfather had passed away a year ago, I was trying my best to visit her as much as possible—and doing an, on all accounts, fucking terrible job at it.
I almost never visited her. I was always too busy—with work; partying; dealing with some anger or other that I had stifled for years; mourning the passing of a friend. If I had just kept moving. Keeping busy was my short-term solution to having to think about anything. Partying allowed me to escape briefly, but even that was becoming mundane. Plus, it left me without a wallet.
On one occasion not so long before that day, my cousins and I went to her house for a casual last-minute lunch. She stood over the kitchen table, breaking bread that she had baked earlier that morning. I placed a few Greek dolmades, made from grapevines found in her garden and stuffed with rice, on to my plate. She watched me take a bite. “Can you taste the mint I picked in the mince? I tried a new recipe!”
Of course, I hadn’t even realized. I wasn’t savoring my meal. My back was slouched and my neck ached, probably due to the shitty-to-zero sleep that I had, had the night before coming home from a warehouse party. I was tense and irritable. At what, I am not quite sure. I kept looking at the clock in the kitchen waiting for the time that I could disappear. Twelve minutes had gone by. Fifty more minutes to go. I was just picking at the vegetables, aimlessly looking out the window.
In this same state of mind on my more recent hungover visit, I obliged my grandmother in the garden. After picking a few apricots, my shoulders had dropped, the sun was warm on my back, and the air was crisp. My yiayia was happily planting a few new trees, taking care in handling the soil, watering, and collecting fruit in her lap. I was shocked to realize I felt calm.
A couple of months later, I had plans to meet a friend for a drink, but before I started walking towards the subway, she texted me that she felt unwell and had to reschedule, so I doubled back and smoked a cigarette in the backyard. Before I knew it, I was watering the fern and reshuffling some olives, thinking, Hey...this is way better than being a bar right now. It was like a silent retreat. I felt in control and in the moment. My head wasn’t in another dimension like it ordinarily would be on a Saturday night in a bar bathroom. I knew I wasn’t going to wake up with the taste of stale liquor in my mouth the next day. My Uber bills weren’t going to haunt me for being a complete fuckhead dashing from one party to another. In the garden, I was free to roam. My phone was out of sight. I picked at a few berries.
Which isn’t to say I gave up partying altogether. I woke up another day having slept in a sparkly purple jumpsuit I wore to a Eurovision-inspired house party the night before, and extremely fucking hungover. Despite my own severe dehydration, I woke up worried that the orange tree hadn’t been watered, so I ventured out into the garden. The plants don’t care whether you’ve brushed your hair, had a proper night’s sleep, or if you’re wearing lipstick.
Hanging out in the backyard like that significantly improves my day. I like that I can see my handiwork—fruit!—being brought to life, so long as I’m patient with the process. Whenever I plant a new fruit tree, I need to ensure that you are careful with the seeds, placing them to receive sufficient amount of sunlight. I need to be gentle. I need to be loving, and to be loving, I need to take time and care.
Now, I extend that to friends who come over for breakfast to slather my fresh figs on their toast after big nights. Maybe I'm just being dramatic, and also that I just like that fact that I don’t have to put on any pants for brunch, but I really like hosting parties where I can feed people what I’ve grown. A month ago, I threw a farewell brunch. As I was carefully pressing the oranges that I had collected that morning into orange juice, I noticed one of my friends observing me as I focused on perfecting the juice. It was almost 11 AM, and my corn fritters were in jeopardy of being burned—I had lost complete track of time. Still, I took time to add fresh mint to the omelette.