The request that came in on my cell phone was as strange as it was simple. Compared to the typical tangled web of things I’m asked to do, what my sister wanted was straightforward, uncomplicated and clean.
Well, maybe not exactly clean.
“Sure I can dig some holes for you. How about Wednesday after work?”
That’s how I found myself here on the rectangular plot that’s carved into my parents’ backyard. Shovel in hand, I’m standing here digging in the dirt.
My sister is the one with the plan. She even has a diagram. Make that hole bigger, she tells me. Make it wider. Make it deeper.
My sister and my mother have tended to this garden every summer. They take seeds that are barely visible and transform them into lettuce and radishes and cucumbers. They turn tiny plants into hardy vines that soon blossom with flowers that somehow burst into zucchini and tomatoes and pumpkins.
When my sister injured her foot, she tells me, her first thought was the garden. From her perch sitting cross-legged on the strip of grass that slices the rectangle in half, she looks up and assures me that nothing was going to stand in her way. Not her foot. Not the demands of her job. Not even her husband’s advice to take it easy. She wasn’t going to miss out on growing season, she says, as she tenderly places a tomato plant into the great big hole I just dug. Big but not quite big enough. Make it deeper.
After working in an office all day, I can tell she just can’t wait to get out here to this little patch of dirt. I have to admit there’s a lovely feeling about the place. I don’t quite know how to describe it. But my sister does.
She loves the feeling of the earth, cool and moist, in her hands. She loves the tree and the shade it brings. The sound of the birds and just listening to them sing. The thought of planting a seed and caring for it, tending to it day after day and then coming back to see what surprises have sprung up while she was gone.
Over the years, she’s become quite the gardener. She’s learned to put up fences to keep the rabbits and squirrels out. She uses just the right amount of Nana’s Bug Juice, my mother’s organic concoction, to keep the pests away. The grass strip that was added down the middle makes a perfect place to sit and plant or weed. And if a flower doesn’t take to a certain spot, she just plucks the whole thing up and finds it a better home.
There are other benefits as well. She tells me how she treasures sharing time and a garden with our mother who taught us these things about growing. It’s a connection that goes back to her childhood growing up on her parents’ farm in Minnesota. Then there’s the pleasant downshifting of gears from work and errands and all the other responsibilities to just come out here and pay close attention to nature, to slow the pace of a hectic day to a more comfortable rhythm, to dig deep for no other reason than the satisfaction of doing so.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll find time to plant some pansies and geraniums in the pots near our front door. To go out and dig in the dirt. To grow something other than children for a change. To find that place my sister has shown me where work becomes play, where time slips by unnoticed, where life is all a matter of earth and water and sun.
Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin