March was the yellow month: daffodils and forsythia which we glimpsed between trips. April then seeped in with pink, azaleas and dogwood and tulips, again glimpsed between trips. As our own burst of pink drew butterflies, we had a couple of stretches in Sago. Hikes through the woods, more trail work, nailing the snow-destroyed gutters back up, work under the house putting up a vapor barrier. . . . the tinkering to settle in a home that is more than a century old never ceases. Late snows notwithstanding, we noticed the garden work starting to go on around us. Nearly every home, be it a trailer or a cabin or an old farmhouse, has a vegetable garden. It's the mountain way.
So last week, when we have five whole days at home, while Scott was productive with more skilled projects and Serge supervision work, I set out to reclaim the two flower beds my kids did for me as gifts last Fall from a springtime surge of weeds. Once the weeds were gone, they looked pretty empty, so a trip to Lowe's later and I had new flowers to set out. Feeling ambitious, I added a small herb patch around the corner.
But I still really wanted a vegetable garden. Scott pointed out that we now had tickets to fly back to Kenya in 68 days, and the minimum time-to-harvest on my seed packets was 60-80 days. So why plant? I'm not sure what compelled me. A dream of making a home. A lifetime missionary habit of "when in Rome". A way of saying that we are investing in this ground not just for ourselves, but for our children when they have time to visit. An affirmation of our daughter's environmental major and love of growing things. More than two decades of living in Africa where I always had so many other people to help me garden and I was stuck in a hospital. Good old stubbornness?
It was a rainy week, the ground was soft, Scott had a full day of meetings, and I decided about 11 am that it was now or never. Our house is up on a rock, and so it made sense to locate the garden down off the ledge in the green grass over the septic field. I began.
I was lacking in technology and expertise, but I figured I had a shovel and time. So I measured out two hoe-lengths as a radius of about 9 feet, and started removing sod in a circle. Piece by piece. Filling a wheel barrow, shaking off the dirt, carrying the grass plugs to a weedy leafy area on the other side of the driveway, a transplanted carpet. It was slow going.
About an hour and a half later, I had a ring, and started moving in. Wow, this was taking a LONG time. Hmm. 250 square feet, and probably 4 struggling shovel attacks per square foot, could I last for a thousand repetitions? When what should I behold but Scott in between meetings, using mechanized brilliance:
It was trickier than it might look to scrape up a thin layer of sod with a tractor bucket and not remove too much dirt . . . and to deal with the heavy folding patches of grass he lifted up. In 20 minutes he made more progress than I did in two hours. But then he had to go back to meetings and I kept plugging on by hand.
The day was slipping towards evening faster than I thought. About 4 I removed the last of the grass and scott reappeared to help me loosen up the ground that was left with a shovel, incorporating a barrow full of compost from the pile we'd been collecting all winter.
And just then, the first in a series of very helpful events occurred. Our neighbor pulled by in his truck, and I ran out into the road and waved him down. Do you have a rota-tiller, I asked? Sure, let me run home and get it, he said. Frankly just what you need after 5 hours of back-straining work is a 20-something young man with a machine he knows how to use. He returned and I kid you not in ten minutes or less, my rough clods were soft plowed garden-like earth.
Sometimes angels look very much like this.
And just in time, because as he loaded his tiller back up (he said it was older than I am), the clouds let loose. Another perfect timing, all that tilled soil turned pliable, sopping wet.
The rain stopped, and I quickly hoed my circle into my dream of a sun-burst pattern.
Sunflowers in the center. A ring of corn around that. Then spokes of tomatoes, beans, lettuces, and herbs. All surrounded by a rim of wild flowers. Well, none of that may actually happen, but in my mind that's what I'm hoping comes up!
Except for one problem: every garden in WV has to fight the encroaching hunger of the deer. We routinely see a handful, or even a flock of 8 or 9 moseying through our yard from one section of forest to another. The two main pass-times of Sago are hunting deer, and devising ways to keep deer out of your garden. The third is talking about the first two.
So in closing, here is the 7-foot fence we wrapped around that circle the next day:
I'm not sure why this project made me so happy, but it did. If anyone I love gets to eat a tomato, I'll be even happier.
I think it is the ultimate picture of redemption that draws us back. Dirt becomes food. Barren ground brings out nourishment. Seeds break open to birth beauty. Something dies, so we can live. The ground was cursed, but we sweat to fight back and transform this patch into a New Creation.