April 19, 2013
It's not a garden yet, just the promise of a garden now, a large square of mud bordered by timbers to keep the dirt from washing out over the backyard grass.
But with all the heavy rain lately, it would have been foolish to stand out there on the edge of the mud and get soaked. So I stood out on the deck for a bit, staring at all that water pooling in that fine loamy soil, thinking of what to plant.
Tomatoes, of course, cucumbers on a netting supported by poles, beans and greens, peppers and onions. Maybe eggplant this year, and Brussels sprouts for the fall.
Gardeners, even lousy ones like me, become insatiable in mid-April. We're waiting for May and hands in the dirt, maybe a blister where the office worker can remember calluses once, and a start full of promise that is always tempered by reality.
Sound corny? Sure. Gardening is a habit I picked up to please my father. Now I do it to please myself.
And to reckon with myself in the quiet of it.
That patch of mud is where we kept the playhouse and swing set for the boys when they were tiny. I'd work at home then occasionally, and when our boys were little they'd sometimes call me out of the basement office and we'd have adventures.
One day was especially fine. The boys knocked quietly, almost timidly on the office door and asked me to go outside. There was sun and blue sky and we sat on the swings and studied the clouds. It was summer, around the time that terrorist Timothy McVeigh was to be executed, that monster who slaughtered all those innocents in Oklahoma trying to become his own god.
So I let the boys pull me out there, away from the monster McVeigh, and we lay on our backs in the grass near the swings and found horses among the clouds.
But these days, the boys have beards. They're much taller than their father. And they don't care much for swings or gardens. They seek other adventures. They want the keys to the car. They want the road.
In our suburban backyard, off to the side along the edge of the yard, is a perennial garden that needs a lot of work. Flowers can be cruel, especially roses. And full perennial gardens take years. Mine is a long, toothless smile, my failure, reminding me of how I don't plan or think for the long term.
It's the vegetable garden that gives a relatively quick return. It's the place I can go to find quiet in the mornings.
A place to pull some weeds, say a prayer and concentrate on something other than news and those striving opinions, away from noise and the brutality of the world. It's the place to avoid the story of the Boston bombings and the relentless shriek of the 24-hour news cycle.
To get away from thinking about a boy like Nazia "Peanut" Banks, 12, shot to death in Chicago while running home. To avoid that sound made by courtiers and political bootlickers as they approach the powerful.
It's there in the garden where I find refuge from the grating sound of my own voice. Away from that voice that knows, the voice with opinions, the one that helped me type this, the voice that tells me each morning what I really should have for breakfast — a big, heaping bowl of shut the bleep up.
And so after the last frost, with the plants in the ground, I can stand quiet out there, tying tomatoes, pinching off suckers, using bamboo stakes to encourage the cucumber vines to stay away from my peppers.
At night when the family is asleep there's that old locust tree in the backyard. I can sit under it, drink a beer and hope to not think of a damn thing. Not the news, or who said what, or who did or wrote what, or all the stupid things I said on the radio or did that day.
It never works out that way though. You sit still under a tree at night and your mind starts to run. What some people need is activity and supreme concentration to keep the world and the headlines out of our heads. That's what I require.
It would be nice to have a river in the backyard full of trout and steelhead demanding absolute concentration, and fields nearby full of rabbits and pheasants so Zeus the wonder dog could feel his true worth every day. But with two boys getting ready for college, that's fantasy, so I have a garden, though now it's just a garden of mud with a fence to keep Zeus out.
You can't very well offer tomatoes or bunches of Swiss chard to friends if you have a dog and don't have a fence. It just isn't done.
As the rain fell the other day, I watched the pooling water and thought of other gardeners doing the same thing at their homes. Winter's gone. We've burned gardens by planting too early before that last frost. But we're itchy to put plants in the ground.
The tomatoes did well last year. Betty planted them. They did so well that I was a bit jealous, but there's nothing like a salad of homegrown tomatoes, onions and crumbled Maytag blue cheese and the anchovies of Mytilini.
If I could find an anchovy plant, I'd put that in the ground, too.
It's so green out there. And so quiet.
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