Mmmmm, that sun feels great on my back. And the belly-laughter from the kids next door…is there a greater sound on earth? My hands turn slimy brown as they root around in the cool earth. Koko snoozes in the sun as I encourage little lettucey life forms that will be tasty later in the summer, and until consumed, will help our planet breathe easier.
It’s extremely satisfying to push the shovel (oh I get it, shove-l) down into the heavy, damp clay, levering the long handle to pull up ten weed bulbs in one scoop. I squat, break up the clumps, pull out the bulbs that have multiplied like rabbits on Chlomid over the winter.
Such are my observations during the first five minutes in the garden. Then my feet fall asleep.
I stand up and wait for the dizziness to pass, working the shovel for a second scoop. This time, the bulbs lie just below my shovel tip and the shiny green stems snap off crisply, leaving the offenders buried deep in the clay. I squat again, breaking apart the hard clumps searching for lost bulbs that range in size from onions to pearls. My back starts to hurt and the dog moves into the shade.
Again I stand, supported heavily by the shovel as the blood rushes back to my feet and a blackout moment passes. Childish laughter has turned to squabbling as I unearth another batch of noxious weed bulbs (one shovel’s worth at left) and encounter a hard root that refuses to budge. I tug and see the razor sharp blackberry bramble across the yard rattle. I hack away and manage to break the root in half. Next year it will undoubtedly return at twice the size and strength. A bleeding finger and bafflement as to where the bramble originated temporarily take the focus off my throbbing back and tingling feet.
Giving up on the digging, I move to the less perilous task of pulling knee-high grass out of what used to be a planting bed. The roots rip satisfyingly easily out of the damp ground, though I’m feeling distinctly resentful at how well the grass thrives here in comparison to our bald, brown patch of “lawn”…much like the toxic blue flowers that have squeezed out my brother’s carefully planted daisies, dahlias and columbine. I ponder the perversion of weeds. So like humans to elevate anything labor intensive to that which is desirable. Tomatoes are divas (if pampered correctly, they’ll repay you with transcendence), dandelions the Everyman. And when the rosemary goes ballistic and takes over the herb bed and needs to be hacked back with a saw resulting in an unsightly mess? Brittany Spears. Or LiLo…take your pick.
I go back to digging to give my knees a break. I’m pretty sure I can hear my lower back creak as I stand. Done with the bugs, the mounting hysteria from next door and my audible groans, Koko the traitor moves inside. I picture the grass clippings and mud clumps she’s tracking through the house and onto the couch. I wonder if she’s mastered the remote and found the America’s Next Top Model marathon on cable.
Another shovelful of tops only, no bulbs. The earthworm carnage is getting critical (and no, cutting a worm in half doesn’t create two worms). My karma quotient is falling. The ranting in my head is getting shrill….or is it the child’s tantrum coming from over the fence? My back is officially in pain, I have a headache, it’s hot, I’m bleeding. I’ve now been gardening for 15 minutes and I’m completely over it. The space beyond the back door is once again officially dead to me. In a couple of years perhaps, lulled by the pretty pictures in Sunset Magazine and the delighted successes of friends, I may venture back out. But for now, I see it clearly.
If the kitchen is God’s workshop, the yard is the devil’s playground.
The fragrant Sellwood brilliance that effortlessly surrounds us is a torturous hallucination…move along now, this is not for you. You will always be the new homeowner who dilligently weeded out the Columbine, leaving just one plant to laugh in your face come May when it flowered. Make peace with the blue-flower bulb weed, because it’s the only flower you’re ever likely to cultivate.
Gardening is a dangerous past-time. Look at the cuts and bruises you’ve amassed in a quarter of an hour. You actually stepped on the rake and bonked your head like a Laurel and Hardy cliche, for chrissakes. Look how gardening managed to kill your dear, cherished 90-year-old neighbor last year. She worked in her fabulous garden every day, and where did that get her? (Or was it the sight of your ever-disintegrating yard that did her in? I’ll always wonder.) You tried and failed, nature has beaten you down once again. Character flaw, cosmic conspiracy, karma, call it what you like, but your 15-minute brush with a self image of nurturer, sower of beauty, giver of life is over.
Even the vitriol-fueled mental post composed in staccato bursts of loathing as I hacked, crumbled, picked, yanked and panted my way through a 2’x2’ patch of overgrown land is lost. In the cool of the house, with Tylenol in my system and a sweating glass of scotch rocks in my hand, the fire and brilliance wrought of extreme suffering has faded. I’m just a beaten woman with swollen wrists and new motivation to get a job. Gardeners cost money, you know.