Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

24 March 2007

From the Garden

Now that I'm finally not sick, I'm trying to catch up on my gardening. It's slow going when you start late. I have lettuce and radishes out, but not yet up, and about 3/4 of the garden dug up for replanting.

I love to dig, although it exhausts me. I dig with a gardening fork, the quintessential gardening tool, in my opinion. We had one in Connecticut when I was growing up, but they are not used much in this part of the country. I can't figure out why not. The fork is the only tool that enables me to dig down really deep into our rather clayey soil and then turn the weeds under. There's something so satisfying in that.

Another part of gardening that I like a lot is weeding—but only when the dirt is still damp from a recent rain and the weeds just sort of slide out into your hand. Another nice feeling. On a day like today in Westville, Oklahoma, after a little bout of much needed rainy weather, it's hard to resist pulling the weeds out instead of turning them under, but the turning under takes care of two crucial jobs at once.

Also, if I start getting down close to the dirt to pull up weeds, I inevitably discover plants I want to save from the fork. New garlics and cilantros growing up from last year. The prettier weeds: wild bluets and violas, both spring bloomers, and what I want to guess are baby black-eyed Susans. Carcasses of hearty plants—fennel, broccoli, Russian sage—that I neglected to dig up at the end of their growing season and that have overwintered and are now sprouting back from their still viable roots. Opting not to notice them is the hardest part of gardening for me. I want to save them all. If I do, though, I will never get to the soil turning part and then the planting of seeds, the part I like least—it's so fiddly—but the part that is most important if I want to have any vegetables.

One year I skipped turning the soil altogether and just planted new between the existing plants. I ended up with a garden of mostly cilantro and elderly crucifers with woody stems and leaves so chewy and insistently cabbagy-tasting that no one would eat them. Usually I break down and allow myself to save some plants—this year I dug up and relocated about a hundred garlics—but in the process of doing so, I rediscover the futility of such acts of mercy: there are just too many little plants that want saving. So, I steel myself and dig.

I hope you're not thinking this is one big metaphor for some sort of cock-eyed message about salvation that I'm trying to make—the futility of it all, so many damned souls out there, some so woody and cabbagy-smelling at the core as to be undesirable even when you do manage to get them saved. But it's not, and I'm not. I'm just cultivating my garden.

Later in the season—once the garden is dug and planted, in the main—I allow myself to save warm season plants that sprout up: tomatoes, zinnias, arugula, basil. And some of the dill. I relocate them to my flower beds. And then, when they get big and scraggly and make my flowerbeds look like old overgrown homeplaces and provide me with more tomatoes and arugula and pesto than I want to harvest and than my family can ever eat, I tell myself, "That was a waste of time, all that transplanting. I won't do that again." But then I do. Over and over. There is something so compelling about the urge to save those little plants, so stout of stem, raising their first fat leaves to the sun.


Katy said...

I pulled weeds in the flower bed out in the front yard last week. It has been rainy off and on all week, and the ground is soft and makes it easy to pull weeds. I love that it's easier to pull the weeds when it's wet out, but the more it rains, the more those pesky weeds come up. Conundrum.

Spring said...

Hey Kirk! I've been whoring myself all day and thought I may as well do this before I lose my momentum and begin to feel very, very dirty.

My new blog is up: http://www.writesofspring.com.

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