The soil feels slightly cold in my hands, its tactile grit abrasive and welcome. I smile. I had forgotten how much it mattered, how much I have been missing and longing for this. How much I needed to be here, kneeling in the grass, feeling the sun warm my shoulders. I had forgotten that being here is like nothing else I know. I had forgotten that a part of me stays dormant along with the stagnant ground, until warmth and sun and life can bring back some longed-for existence.
I can slow it down in the garden. The thoughts of the day, the schedule, the things that need to be done. All day long, I make lists in my head, and lists on paper. Emails I need to return, phone calls to make. Kids to pick up at school. Timers to set. So I don’t forget. Notes to write. Ideas to remember. Orders to fulfill. Designs to complete. Worries about the kids. The upcoming semester. Thoughts about well-being and health and Paul and schedules and plans. All day long there is a ceaseless sense of multi-tasking in my thoughts. I can’t have a song in my head without also having a thought about what to make for supper while simultaneously reminding myself to call the orthodontist. Sadly, I am unable to have just one thought there at a time. Except for in the garden. I think there, but it’s not the mundane and detailed. Not the anxious bursts. Not the minutiae, the check-boxes on my lists. Garden thoughts are beautiful. One at a time. A slower pace of the grandiose. The far-off dreams. The possible. The waiting and hoping, and thinking back. Thoughts that make me both recall and imagine. And thoughts that make me wonder.
I notice things. The curve of the rake, how the light hits the arches. The way the grass is so green it looks to be unrealistic. And that makes me wonder why it seems greenest in spring. If it really is, or is it the novelty of the passing of a long, dead winter that makes spring grass seem so saturated with color? Is it that green in summer, but I’m just dulled by its constancy? I notice the newly-turned patch of dirt that is so busy teeming with life. I have to sit, resting my chin on my knees, and just watch the bugs, the worms, the ants racing, the sun warming them, too. I remember doing that as a girl. I loved to sit and dream and watch ant hills. And I realize how much is really happening right beneath my feet, things I don’t even think about until I take the time to sit barefoot in the grass.
I wonder about things. Why the dirt feels so right. Why this is the one place in the world that seems like it was where I was meant to be. Why I need this. I wonder if it’s normal to move away dirt, hoping that if I dig just a little bit, I’ll find something that has life. I feel like a child digging to see if the carrot is really there. Even weeds make me happy. I love to see that the soil is capable of growth, that there is life and potential in there. I scratch past the surface, and feel something secure, rigid. The arrival of this early asparagus is thrilling for me. Soul-filling. And I wonder why it’s this way, why I just sit there and admire the group of three stalks, wonder why I move my hand to test its strength, feel the texture of its tightly-furled leaves. I wonder why so many things in creation like to be planted in odd numbers, wonder at the beauty and detail on a piece of growth. I wonder if we’ll ever get to see the Lake District in England. If I will get to walk those gardens, hand held in Paul’s, and quietly exclaim in the hedgerows. I wonder if the light is different there, if the texture of leaves and plants feels the same. I wonder if my hands will ever turn the soil in Ireland someday, and I wonder why I long to. I wonder at how much more peaceful the world would be if we all spent an hour in our own little garden every day. I think we would be different. I wonder if I’m normal. I wonder if it’s in my blood, this ferocious need, this longing to grow things. This joy of seeing something spring up into life. It has to be. It’s that strong, as if a certain gene was passed down, as strong as the genes that made me 5 feet tall, light-haired and fair-skinned. It’s that much a part of me. I wonder about my great-grandfather McBrierty, if it’s because of him, a gardener by occupation. Where did this love of the soil, of flowers, growth, the need for new life originate? Did he delight in pulling weeds, seeing the tendrils escaping the small grains of dirt? Did he notice the way afternoon light filters through flower petals? Did he, too, love to repeat the Latin names of plants in his head? Did he delight in the small details, the wonderful world of miniature and symmetry and color? Did he think lovely, dreaming thoughts? Did he say a prayer of thanks and hope when spring arrived, a thought of gratification and belonging? Was he drawn to the garden, as if by force? Did he smile to himself when he saw a chance-sown nigella seed, blown by the wind to the asparagus bed, and leave it there since it must have wanted to settle in that very place? I hope so. I like to think that. He was a gardener, a man who worked the land to provide for his family. Did he love it as I? It was what he knew. I hope it was what he loved. I never knew him, but I can’t go into the garden on an early spring day without wondering about him. Did he need to be there, as part of the fabric of his days? Did he long for it?
I hope so. I hope that as he daily worked that soil and provided for his family, that he was nourished within. I hope he knew what it was to feel this way.