My wife and I spend a good part of the spring and summer in our vegetable garden. For the past few years, I have neglected my part in keeping the raised beds weeded: I've played at a task that is really hard work. This year, I vowed to do better. After six weeks, we are finally ready for planting. The timing is perfect, as the danger of frost customarily vanishes around Memorial Day.
Inside, we've started tomatoes, eggplants and a variety of other vegetables. They are big now, bursting almost out of the starting pots. Hardier plants, Brussels sprouts and beets, are already flourishing outside. And a new bed of strawberries has taken root and shows signs of thriving. One bed of asparagus has rebounded with startling will, shoots reaching skyward and growing almost as we watch.
We've been working the same plot now for going on seven years. This is the first year I have really felt confident about care of the soil. I am rebuilding the bed with rich compost resulting from the leavings of our chicken coop. It feels like magic to shovel rich, dark Earth out of a pen that was once mere waste. Today I disturbed roots near some sage, and rebuilt the bed. I am a sculptor.
I am bad with plant names. But I am expert now at weeding. I can tell what short of root system a plant has by looking. Grasses grow complex underground systems, and it is far better to dislodge a clump before it spreads. A new weed seems to have come to New England, a succulent water transport system I see beside the roads now, too. The weed's roots are merely topical. They are easily pulled, even on a dry day.
The best time to weed, I have learned, is after a rain. Root systems are more easily dislodged. Long underground vines looking like millipedes filled a basket at one point today. The mud feels good on my knees, a soft surface.
After several hours of weeding, there is satisfaction. Another row cleared. I turn the soil, and cover it with a tarp. Next week we will plant that bed. And throughout the summer, I will be vigilant in removing unwanted growth. Already our peas are knee high, climbing the nylon mesh we've strung across their row. The weeds, too, are robust along the back edge of the garden. I tease them from the ground with a gardener's touch careful not disturb the roots of the peas.
All week long I am words, and conflict and counsel. Bad metaphors coax me through the week. To one I say the charges against him are like a tumor. I, the surgeon, will do my best to remove it. But the growth is bad. Hope, I tell him, but be realistic. Another I tell that anger is the cheapest drug: Don't become addicted, I warn, it will be your undoing. It was a tough week: One client hospitalized after a suicide attempt, another cajoled from the same sort of fate. Everywhere desperation. My roots seemed to choke amidst the hot house of emotions.
So the garden beckons on Saturday and I court life. It is the best time of the week. I look up today and see my wife at the other end of the garden. She sits with a packet of summer squash seeds -- we grow squash by the bushel. She looks like a child at play on the seashore. The Sun is on her, and she is gentle with each planting. I don't want her to catch me looking at her. Her innocence would be so easily shattered. She is peace at play, and my eyes tear. What have I done to deserve her?
I know the weeding I do makes a place for her to plant. So I turn back to my work. But the image of a lovely woman as a child at play now prods me. We grow vegetables in our garden. The weeds I pull make room for something more to take root, and this new growth each year, and this year in particular, is love. It's the crop that keeps us coming back each year, weeds, root rot, fungus or not.