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.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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13 Responses

  1. Emily U says:

    This made me tear up. How lovely that you got to experience the first year of your daughter’s life in your garden.

  2. Emily U says:

    By the way, how do you trim back your tomatoes? Mine are growing spindly. Should I cut off the top of the main shoot?

    • Deborah says:

      I’m experimenting a bit, since we have two growing seasons down here — spring with a June tomato harvest and fall with a November harvest. I’m trying to keep them alive through the heat — they won’t produce fruit, but if the roots stay strong . . . we’ll see. I cut off all “suckers” — anything growth within three inches from the bottom of a main vines. I also thin the spindly ones and lop off any vines with browning or curling leaves. Last month, I did a major hack job on one that had lots of browning, and it’s growing back beautifully. But we’ll see if anything survives the August heat . . . besides my jalepenos and eggplant!

  3. Libby says:

    So, so lovely — and so, so foreign to me! My parents always had a garden. My mom, at age 70, still putters around her flower beds. But I can count my son’s first year in quilts and scarves, and I’m sure there’s a metaphor there. (Happy first birthday to YOU!)

    • Deborah says:

      I grew up with a garden, so while this is my first “adult” garden, it feels like coming home in some ways. I have always wanted to quilt . . . but not quite enough to actually quilt!

  4. Rachel says:

    So beautiful. Thank you. I especially loved, “I like to think I’ve tamed this yard, but everytime I plant something new, I add to its wildness.”

    It reminded me of a poem I read years ago, about leaving the Garden of Eden, of which I can only remember one line: This earth, tangled with weeds. But I am pleased to labor here.

  5. HokieKate says:

    Beautiful. My daughter’s birthday in Sunday, and I couldn’t handle a garden this past year. Maybe next year!

  6. Diane says:

    I’m the black widow of plants, I buy plastic because I’m afraid I’m going to kill anything beautiful, I’m so bad, I’ve actually killed a cactus, A cactus people, that should tell you how bad I’m.

    But, i do love the pictures of your daughter, especially the last one

  7. Annie B. says:

    This is beautiful, and being a very visual person, I especially love all the pictures.

  8. Deborah says:

    Thanks, Diane and Annie. One consequence of having a this girl is my desire to record her days visually since I know she won’t remember them herself! Perhaps I’m afraid of forgetting them too 🙂

    • Diane says:

      Pictures are important, When I was working as a nanny, I use to take tons of pictures and get double prints, a lot of people thought I was crazy, but, I got to see so much during the day that there parents didn’t get to see, which is why I did it

  9. Nate C. says:

    Made me tear up as well. Oh how I wish I had the time and lived someplace where growing food didn’t feel like a constant exercise in torture with the environment.

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