Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels
It sat there, nestled in all its brownish, gelatinous, pulsating goo, nestled against the stem of my only jumbo strawberry plant like it was nestled in with a lover. My face twisted with disgust and horror.
There’s a friggin slug in my strawberry plant! I thought, all twisted and choked with despair. I wanted to cry, I tell you. I wanted to scream. Instead, I packed up all of my outside oasis stuff — packed up my unbreakable tumbler filled with strawberry daiquiri, my juicy novel, my phone, my bluetooth speaker, my hopes, my dreams … oh, and my two dogs, too. We all went inside to the darkness.
Okay, that may sound like I’m being dramatic, but here’s the background; maybe after you hear it you’ll understand.
You know how you kind of convince yourself that nothing good ever happens for you? Maybe you’re not being a self-pitying wallow-er on purpose... you kind of just slip into the uniform, accidentally. Well, that’s my life. Never did a good thing happen that I wasn’t absolutely certain a bad thing was on it’s heels. It’s not only that the other shoe was expected to drop, I expected a size ten fourteen-pound cinder block platform combat boot to fall and decimate everything. I was so sure that bad would come my way that when good came I didn’t trust it. Yeah, that’s me.
When I first bought my condo I messed around and let myself get too happy about it. You know what came next… I got the neighbor from hell. Not an exaggeration. Turmoil in spades. When I wanted to move I couldn’t afford to. When I could afford to the neighbor had calmed down enough to be tolerable. My dogs still growl and mean-mug him every chance they get.
Fast forward to the pandemic. I didn’t realize how sad I was. I rode it out like all the rest of you, grateful I could work from home and I was safe and healthy. But at the start of this year this small yearning to do something with my back patio grew and didn’t let up.
I’d grown stuff before. Herbs and a strawberry plant I’d put in a flat, long planter on the ground. It had excited me to watch my tarragon grow and my strawberries turn from green to red. But then the strawberries started to look funky. On inspection, I discovered my first slug-infested strawberry plant. I was so grossed out that, unfortunately for that plant, I stopped watering it. I stopped looking at it. I harvested my tarragon and let the freakin’ berries die.
I hardly used my patio after that except to grill because it wasn’t that pretty. My sister bought me a little table set to cheer me up after a period when I was hospitalized and the brightness of the color made my ugly patio look that much worse.
So at the start of this year when I began looking at my patio again I had a mission: To get out of my home but to a safe place where I could lounge without fear. I’d been binging Youtube and I wanted a backyard oasis. I was going to plant again, I decided, only this time I’d use elevated planters to keep my knees out of the dirt and the slugs out of my strawberries.
I went at it like it was my job. My pavers were uneven and unfinished and the dogs had used the space to do their business. I had to clean it all up. I washed the walls. I stripped and stained the fence. I chopped that moldy, yucky, impossible to keep clean patio carpet into pieces and hauled it to the trash. I made countless trips to the supply store, lugging many pounds of pavers and pebbles and sand for a handyman to fix my pavers and when he was “done” I went back over his mediocre work, adding more pavers to fill the gaps. Then I swept sand, sprayed sealant. Did it again.
Then the decorating. I followed someone’s advice and found a plastic patio rug, which I love! It weighs nothing and looks great. My dogs promptly trotted outside, squatted and lifted, both of them in sync to mark their territory on my new rug. After I finished screaming a primal yell, I was pleasantly surprised that it rinsed off easily with a hose. If only you could have seen the disappointment on their faces you’d have thought I abused them. They don’t even bother to try any more, it cleans too easily. The joy has been taken from their experience. Score!
It took weeks for me to choose the furniture and put it together and put together the planters. Then I strung up lights and bought an umbrella. I was finished. It doesn’t look like the amount of work I put into it but I finished in about a month. Finally I built my modest, yet loved, oasis.
My plan was beauty and function. I chose a few hardy little dwarf pine trees that could withstand the winter and be decorated for the holidays. A couple palms. And I wanted to eat the fruits of my labor so planted tomatoes, jumbo strawberries, a dwarf mandarin tree, and a long planter with lemongrass, basil, oregano, parsley, and jalapeno peppers.
I immediately managed to murder the two baby Christmas trees. I don’t have a picture of those–it’s too sad. I watered them and everything. It was like they looked at me and said, we’d rather die a quick death than a long slow one with this woman.
I replaced them with a boxwood and a sky pencil. No sweat. I added flowers to the little seating area.
My citrus was only growing leaves, my tomatoes were super slow and developed something I now know is called end rot.
No problem, no problem. I found this lovely flowering plant called a purslane that’s a succulent, it hardly needs water and I hear it’s edible.
And then, one day, I lifted the leaves of my jumbo strawberry plant and there, nestled lovingly next to the stem was a freakin’ slug.
You heard me.
How in the hell does a slug get into an elevated planter three feet off the ground? How does it even know there’s a strawberry plant there?
Why my strawberries?!
And we’re back to the start of this story. I packed up my shit and went back inside where I didn’t have to deal with the utter failure.
My love for my oasis cooled off real quick. Oh it still looked pretty from a distance but I knew what was hiding behind those leaves. I took to standing in the window to look at my lovely slug-infested oasis, wondering if I left the slug in the pot would it crawl out when it gets cold? Would it die from the cold or would it hibernate and spring to life when next spring rolls around? Should I cut my losses and douse the whole plant in bleach? It would die a horrible death but I wouldn’t have the creeps anymore.
Why me? What did I do to deserve this? I didn’t ask for much, I just wanted a backyard oasis. I just wanted a peaceful home. I just want to be able to live my life without turmoil. I don’t trouble anyone, why can’t I have this one thing?!
Because it’s never just about the one thing. It’s the story of my life. That slug is every disappointment that destroyed a beautiful moment. I’m sick of it I tell you!
I allowed weeds to grow back between the pavers because, why not? It’s a hellhole, after all. Disgusting. Don’t believe me, ask…
…the freakin’ slug in my strawberry plant!
But I’d been doing a lot of self-reflection during the pandemic. I learned that ignoring something doesn’t make the problem go away. Giving up when there might, possibly, be a solution is cowardice.
After about a week the shock and horror began to wear off and I started to realize this wasn’t a sign that I don’t deserve anything good. That’s just my turmoil-trained psyche playing tricks on me. What it is was simple … it’s a mollusk. Like a snail. People eat snails, they’re not so scary.
I came to good sense. I reminded myself to be happy I have a beautiful plant the slugs find so delectable. I reminded myself I’m bigger and tougher than a slug. I reminded myself of the pandemic … hello.
My patio is lovely. Insects–and slimy, disgusting mollusks–are inevitable in nature. And to learn from that symbolism is to understand that difficulties aren’t rare, they’re a fact of life. It’s up to us to manage them, not allow them to manage us.
No one gets a life without turmoil.
I knew this, intellectually, but emotionally, it’s always a shock to the system when things drastically deviate from what we want or feel we deserve.
I started slowly going back out on my patio again. I watered my plants. I watched my dogs play. I weeded. The insects are still annoying to me, but my dogs think it’s terribly fun to pounce on one or pluck one mid-air as a snack.
One day, as I watched my chubby little girl dog munch on something that she had to fight to keep in her mouth–she likes to work for her treats–it made me think; that’s a girl that knows how to take a bite out of life and not let life take a bite out of her. If I let her see the thing in my pot, she wouldn’t worry that there’s a slug in my strawberry plant. She would think, wow, strawberries and protein! What a great day!
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much work you do or how much you hope on top of hope that things will be perfect. Whether you’re deserving or not. Whether you’re giving or not, Whether you’re good or not. You might still get that monkey wrench.
My problem is, and has always been, that I’m too good at noticing the wrench. I have to start planning what to remember for when that wrench shows up.
I should have decided from the start, I’m going to plant strawberries in an elevated pot but I might still get slugs. And if that happens I won’t stop watering the plant. That plant is a small part of my experience. I set out to build a backyard oasis and I won’t let a slug run me out.
I’m going to try harder to roll with challenges in life and try to find a solution. I’m going to remember that if a mollusk is the worst thing I can complain about in my life, maybe I don’t have it so bad. If that mollusk can become such a big issue that it stops me from enjoying my patio, I obviously still need to work on myself.
Yes, there’s a slug in my strawberries.
But hey … did you see my freakin’ beautiful patio oasis?
Originally published at https://exploringmyhappy.com on October 10, 2021.