Putting down roots


A yellow squash plant just two days after I planted it is starting to grow new leaf buds.
The cold water running over my hands left muddy streaks on my kitchen sink but hardly left a mark on the dirt that caked my fingers, etched into the crevices of my palms and compacted under my fingernails. Dry dirt covered my knees, grass stains marred the seat of my old shorts,and

a sunburn was starting on the back of my neck and the strip of my back where my old, blue-and-white checked cami had pulled up as I squatted at the edge of a patch of clay and rocks and a rich, wet topsoil that I call my garden.

And the ache between my shoulders and the dryness of my throat and the fresh-raised welts from pesky mosquitos all told me the same: I was very much alive.

The last time I had a garden was when I was a teenager, toiling in a grueling Texas summer as we dug buckets of red clay from the hill behind my house and formed a terrace garden in its place; those were the years we carted dirt from the chicken pen down around the garage, behind the house, and lugged buckets of clay to ruts in the jungle we called a pasture in moments of optismism. Those were the years my siblings tossed chicken feed into their own garden while my father told them it wouldn’t grow, and the years that Dad lost his infallability when they proudly presented their corn at our supper. We watched eagerly for strawberries to turn red, picked yellow tomatoes because they were almost red, and hated the rabbits who left half-eaten zucchini rotting in the heat.

Then followed years without roots, in many different ways. I was 17 when we left our hard-hewn terraced gardens and our country life in Texas and moved to a house on the edge of town in Illinois. I went from a rented room in Costa Rica to a dorm room at a college in Northern Virginia, to a shared house with four other girls, to one tiny apartment with my new husband and then on to another.

And in all those years of keeping childhood treasures in cardboard boxes and wondering where I could call home come the holidays, I missed the simple, stable life that a garden promises.My tomatoes are the strongest-looking seedlings of the bunch.

Because if you plant those tiny seeds and frail, tender stems in the early summer, you’re promising you’ll be there until that first frost of winter. You’ll water and weed and fertilize those plants and yell at rabbits and watch your produce grow until harvest, when the dirt under your fingernails becomes the food on your table.

I’ve got two healthy tomato plants growing now, in a six-by-six plot of dirt they share with four bell pepper seedlings, four parsley plants, one tiny rosemary stem, four zucchini vines, three squash vines, and an intrepid row of green beans; and a husband with blisters on his hands and a weary smile that says, “Gardens are a waste of time but if it’s what you want…”

And a little bit of my soul utters a peaceful sigh, and relaxes, and a tiny root in my own heart reaches out a tendril and realizes there’s room to grow, and my busy mind has already planned all sorts of fancy things I’m going to make with my new vegtables and then take to work since my husband doesn’t even like them.

Yes, friends, I’ll be here for a while. There’s dirt under my nails and blisters on my palms to prove it.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Putting down roots

  1. Pam

    Lovely story, Heather! Here’s hoping your garden is bountiful this summer.

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