It’s midsummer 2012: a July, according to the weathermen, of epic drought.
Every day smothering waves of heat and humidity break over and around our heads. Sane people–whether in central Virginia, in the mid-Atlantic, throughout the South and the Midwest–are inside, cowering within air-conditioned rooms with the blinds drawn.
I’m spending more time than most people I know think is healthy outside, slapping at mosquitoes, moving slowly so as not to blow too quickly through my reserves of energy, and simply hooting at my springtime aspirations.
What arrogance it seems now that I thought I had anything to teach anyone else about the garden, when this tiny freckle on the earth’s massive skin so clearly has me by the scruff of the neck in order to school me.
It’s teaching me my limitations: the limits, e.g., of my tolerance for direct sun on 96-degree days… It’s teaching me observation: the fact that even good soil looks a lot like beach sand (and is about as capable of supporting life) after 58 days in 60 without rain… Also, as I wrestle in my own mind with the balance between beds and fallow ground, as I whack weeds, battle deer, groundhogs, rabbits, it’s been teaching me the literal meaning of the words “breaking new ground.”
An innocent-seeming collection of words—one I’ve been using, apparently misusing, for years. Never before this year have the words had such a specific, concrete connection to my body … to the cups of sweat pouring off of me … to my sun-burnt, bug-bitten arms … to my aching back.
Is it that gardening is, apparently, is much like childbirth, in that, once the earth starts bearing fruit, the gardener forgets all about the travail it took to get there? I think there may be something to that notion.
The 10½ Street Garden is looking beautiful this year. Now that I’m no longer in charge of it, it’s pure pleasure just to drive by and I have to exert almost a physical effort to recall what it took turn that horrible soil, soil roughly the color and consistency of brick yard dust, into the mahogany-colored loam that supports these rich and abundant vegetable lives now.
Obviously, what 10½ Street is now, is what I wish for Oakwood. And yet this is new ground. Another way of saying that is: This is wild ground.
Two years ago, there was nothing on the site but a tangle of walnuts, locust, and pine. Every day, the smartweed and pokeweed try to claim it back and the deer and rabbits and groundhogs give us to know how satisfying they, also, find the things we attempt to grow…
This is new ground—it’s wild ground. Day after blistering midsummer day. I must contend with it. I must love it.