Monday, July 06, 2015

The making of a mud-beast

If weeks of rain and forced neglect result in weeds standing taller than the lima-bean plants in the garden, one way to approach the problem is to look carefully at each individual stalk and yank up anything that doesn't look beanlike. This, however, requires more painstaking attention than I'm willing to pay on the first dry morning in weeks, so I go for Plan B: find the biggest, fattest weed in the patch, reach toward the base, and pull it up, opening up a giant's-eye view into the forest of weeds to make bean plants more visible.

In the still-wet garden, my shoes soon become heavy with mud; I shake off the soil clinging to weeds and spray mud on my arms, legs, chest, and hair. At a wedding shower this spring I gave my colleague a trough full of herbs to plant in her garden and on the card I wrote, "My husband and I are never happier than when we're getting our hands dirty together. I wish for you the same happiness." And it's sort of true, although what we do in the garden doesn't always look particularly happy.

I grumble about the weeds, wonder what to do with a bean plant I've accidentally uprooted, call out "Bucket!" when I need him to come fetch the full bucket of weeds and replace it with an empty one. He takes away the weeds and uses them to weigh down layers of newspapers beneath the tomato plants. Sometimes we chat--about when we'll get the canoe out again (with the forecast calling for rain all week), how much dill two people really need (way less than we've got growing), the research trip we'll take next summer if my grant application achieves its goal (which won't happen unless I start writing).

Soon enough I've freed the row of lima beans from their imprisoning weeds and it's time to move over to the next row, where the deep purple-green leaves of cold crops--broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts--stand tall above the weeds. Hiding beneath the canopy are leaf lettuce, kohlrabi, and cabbages, plus a patch of borage. We planted the borage three or four years ago at the other end of the garden, and every year it comes back in a different spot. The fuzzy gray-green leaves provide soothing visual texture and the blossoms cast a sweet aroma over the summer garden, attracting bees and other pollinators. I don't really do anything with borage but it's nice to have around.
Dark clouds come rumbling overhead--time to go inside. My back complains when I straighten up and I must resemble a mud beast emerging from the primal ooze. Mud coats my gardening shoes so thickly that every step up the driveway picks up gravel until I appear to be wearing shoes made of stone mortared with mud. As I've transformed a patch of garden from weed heaven to productive soil, the garden has transformed me into something barely human, a mindless being burst forth from weed and muck. I don't mind getting a little garden on me today if tomorrow it means I'll get some garden in me. Bring on the beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and cabbage! All this weeding makes me hungry.


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