Tilling the Earth
Tomorrow is her first birthday, and she hasn’t gotten a fire ant bite yet. That’s something of a miracle given the menacing mounds that keep popping up in our backyard.
We’ve been away from home for most of July, and though the neighbor boy did a great job watering, I have skeletal sunflowers to hack down, tomatoes to trim back, weeds to pull, over-sized cucumbers to pick, and fire ants to kill. And mosquitos. One of our flowerboxes didn’t drain properly, leaving a breeding pool for the blood-suckers. The baby (almost toddler) is dotted with red bumps.
It’s 7am, and we have already been to the park and back, pushing out the door before sunrise to enjoy a couple of hours of fresh air before the heat puts us on house arrest. I’m stuffing dead leaves into the composter, and she’s crawling off her blanket toward the flower bed. She won’t touch a cucumber, but she’ll devour handfuls on dirt and munch on full flowers.
I started the herb and flower garden the month before she was born, digging out a rocky bed (and keeping that detail away from my doctor). The first vegetables went in the raised beds when she was one month old. It was late August, and for the first time since age 4, I was not starting school. That’s 17 years as a student and 13 years as a teacher. I wanted this child, I needed this child, but it was painful to let go of the structure of my entire conscious life. She kicked in her bouncy seat while I planted lavender beneath the pear tree and thinned the irises. She watched as we took out two diseased peach trees and replaced them with roses. She teethed on fresh carrots and chard.
When the first frost hit, she watched me from her blanket bundle as I draped the tomatoes in flannel sheets, desperate to save hundreds of green tomatoes that had felt my post-partum nurturing. I may have cried when some did not survive the night.
We started seedlings together inside in January: Spring peas. Spinach. Radishes. Dill. By the time we placed them in the earth in early March, she was crawling and smearing her face with soil. At the garden store, I would show her two flowers let her point. She favors purples and yellows, just like her mama.
When the mystery tree turned out to be an apricot tree, we sang that great Mormon song: spring had brought us such a nice surprise. I made my first jam — the kind that can sit on a pantry shelf! — and we eat it in our yogurt every morning.
I like to think I’ve tamed this yard, but everytime I plant something new, I add to its wildness. The squash becomes a home for potato bugs. The tomatoes attract masses of birds that stalk me as I drape foil and netting. The composter draws flies. And now the mosquitos and fire ants, which come out to play in the hours when it is cool enough to sit on a blanket playing with sticks.
I like that my daughter has spent her first year this way. I like that we both have constant dirt beneath our nails. I don’t garden out of any sense of “should.” There are plenty of “should’s” that haunt me. This was an invitation.
Something in this little plot of earth asked me if it could be a part of my family and invited me to be a part of hers. Sometimes I think mother earth was looking out for a new mom, inviting me to learn about something about how things grow up.
Happy birthday, baby girl. Your mothers love you.