Monday, January 24, 2011

Leaning on a Shovel

Yesterday, after scratching around for a few Sunday morning hours trying to think of a project that would actually satisfy, Holly and I burst out the back door and ran for the garden tools. The temperature had risen to about 40 degrees, I’m guessing, in a short window between nighttime temps in the 20s. Eyeballing the ground from the kitchen window, we decided maybe, maybe it could be worked, and we were off to create a new bed for a perennial herb garden.

Oh this particular daughter of mine, how she understands the ancient call to get outside and make hay. She misses her work at Heifer International’s Overlook Farm in Massachusetts, having recently completed a five-month internship there. Her knowledge of farming and food pathways rivals mine, easy.

And to think I was the butt of a family joke for a long time, after picking the girls up from high school and remarking about a black mound of topsoil as we passed, “Look at that beautiful dirt.”

Dirt you say, Mom? Dirt? How about mildew, or garbage? Entrails, perhaps?

Within the last few weeks, 23-year-old Holly was the one driving us somewhere, absentmindedly, when her eyes lit upon another mound of compost-rich soil. Forgetting herself, she murmured, “Look at that beautiful dirt.

Kids say the darndest things …

* * *

Whoa there, friend:  erase all those notions of blooming azaleas and spring birdsong I’ve conjured with the mere mention of working the dirt. Here in Brumley Gap, the azaleas are not dead but they look it, and Doug, with his heart of gold for the smallest creatures, clears snow and tenderly spreads black oil sunflower seed to keep the birds from starving. Last time I wrote, I conveyed a reluctance to trust a burgeoning sense of well-being based on better weather, this being only late January. Christmas is recent enough that I almost feel I can turn, look over my shoulder, and see it.

Count me among those who believe there’s very good reason so many of the world’s cultures have arranged winter festivals, including Christmas, to fall around the time of the winter solstice. Even forced merriment works as a cultural adaptation to keep humans, in fits of dark winter depression, from following the example of lemmings. Pass the spiked eggnog, please. Or just the spike. I am thinking of adding some pagan traditions to our family holiday next year, to increase the beneficial effect, or at least to keep us busier in our attempts to survive until the days get longer. Admittedly, our tradition in recent years has amounted to me saying, “Hey somebody. Get a branch from the yard and stick some stuff on it.” But I rather like the Incan idea of ceremoniously tying the sun to a stone. How hard could it be?

Any harder than Holly and I stretching ourselves, physically, between the height of winter and the height of spring?

The ground did turn over under our shovels yesterday. We shed our layers one by one as we warmed to our own movements, beginning with down parkas. Then darkness came; snow fell; our unfinished project iced up, as though miserly Old Man Winter could not concede even that one small patch of ground. The shovels are still leaned against the back fence, dusted with frozen water crystals and cause for the neighbors to wonder if we know what we are doing. We do. In actuality, we are loath to put the tools of spring back in the shed. Our herb garden waits, and we wait. In short sunlit intervals, we will continue turning dirt, smothering the sleeping, unwanted weeds with plastic, lifting the plastic and spreading compost  --  to await planting after the danger of frost.

Old Man Winter grows weaker by the day, and what choice do we have, but to make that good enough for now?

None whatsoever.