Gardening, Shmardening: Wallowing about in the Dirt

“But you love gardening,” my husband says.

I am standing in our front yard, leaning on my edging shovel. I had been complaining about the scope of the gardening job that faces me: our two-acre yard with its dozen gardens, its countless shrubs, its endless edges needing, well, edging. One of our gardens is the size of a small island and is so thickly overgrown that it is as dense as a jungle.

I look at him blankly, sigh.

“That’s like saying I love taking out the garbage. It’s a job, nothing more.”

He shakes his head. “You love being out there,” he says. “Wearing your workboots, wielding a shovel. Getting your hands dirty.” He grins. “Besides, you look so cute.” I am wearing yellow plaid shorts from the 1980s, an old road race t-shirt speckled with paint and a ball cap. I am smeared with dirt from top to bottom.

I roll my eyes.

In a certain mood, I might take this exchange as evidence that he doesn’t understand me, doesn’t listen, doesn’t appreciate how much I do. That is not true, though, fun as it would be to pursue that line of thought. (And if you think that’s fun, I’ve got a bottle of Paxil with your name on it.)

Our conversations are like this: neither of us will accept a statement by the other without testing it. We will argue the opposing case with skill and forcefulness, albeit always dropping the point before it turns into something ugly. I used to think that it was only my husband who did this, but I’ve realized lately that I do it, too, that he can’t so much as purport to want a hot dog without my questioning his intention. This is what happens when two lawyers live together. It is an act of love, really, given how we are trained.

Besides, he’s right.

Well, not completely right, but he’s not completely wrong either. I don’t hate gardening. I don’t not like the sensation of a weed giving way or the soft, cool feel of earth in my bare, no-gloves-for-me hands. I do like to be outside, breathing deeply of the fresh air, alone with my ideas and all the space in the world to simmer them. No phone ringing, no children asking me where their socks are. Moving my body for a change instead of being anchored in my desk chair, attention locked on a computer screen.

“When I first saw you out there, I thought you were the help!” This from my neighbour, Ruth, not long after she and her husband moved next door. We both laughed. I couldn’t blame her. Riding the lawn tractor, with my pony tail and steel-toe work-boots, I probably did look like local lawn service. I took it as a compliment actually.

I like the solitude. I like the twitter and whistle exchanges between birds, imagine them as nagging spouses. I like witnessing, first-hand, the miracle of life revealed: the white pines we planted fifteen years ago, now towering over the house, the taste of a strawberry warmed by the sun, the dogged persistence of the wildflowers that grow here, year after year, unasked.

What I don’t like is when I look up from nature and forget all that. When I raise my gaze and see instead, the bedraggled pine shrubs, the overgrown sand cherries, the garden so choked with periwinkle that nothing else can be seen. When all I see is work. And there is the rub. The problem – the error – is in my thinking. The problem is not in the yard.  Really, it doesn’t matter a damn what the yard looks like. It doesn’t matter what the neighbours or my parents might think either. They are all nice folks. They’ll understand. Me, I have to re-focus on the daisies.

I could use a re-focus about now, too. I’ve been sitting in front of this computer screen, immobile, for two hours. I can feel stiffness settling in to my lower back, tension creeping from my shoulders up the sides of my neck. There is a three-by-three square garden in the shade of the back porch that is calling my name. The soil needs to be turned over with a fork and planted with impatiens, fuschia and white. The soil will be cool and moist, full of earthworms.  The breeze will be thick with the smell of freshly cut grass.

Think I’ll head outside now.

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