Friday, June 3, 2011
Learning the Lay of the Land
This is what you look like if you go single dig the smaller of your two front beds on a day where it's 96°F in the shade. I've not dug up the land by hand since 1998, back when I spent a few months gutting and refinishing group homes for unwed Romanian mothers who had been kicked out by their families. I'm talking about using a scythe to clear the land, then digging and turning with spading forks, which is darn close to what I'm doing now. I can feel Grandmother (my own grandmother's grandmother) guiding me, feeding me knowledge I didn't have until she put it into my hands and head. I had no idea enriching and restoring dirt was such hard work. Her approval radiates around me, erasing any anger or frustration that might pop up.
The land nudges me along, too. What was a little uncooperative the first day I started weeding is suddenly teaching me the structures and growth stages of the things it's been growing forever. Things that have no place in a flower bed like great thorned thistles and jimson weed nearly as tall as I am with tenacious, vast root structures deep in the clay soil. They tangle around the husks of shrub roots whose insides have died and rotted, leaving only the woodiest outer layer. The small bed has been reduced to three sage bushes, smaller than basketballs, and the mint that has a plan to take over the world.
The land spirits here are... interesting. It's old pasture land, finally developed after years of disuse, and dotted with rental houses that show evidence of a crooked contractor cutting corners. There hasn't been time for years of tenants streaming in and out to make things go as sad and dormant as an elderly person in a home who never gets any visitors. I suppose it's wary, but not unfriendly right now. It is used to peace, to surviving the cycles of the seasons and nourishing cattle. At the nursery, my choices seemed to be more about making the garden idiot proof than anything. Now I know, after spending hours with my hands in this earth, that I made the choices of hardy native plants, native organic composts, and native cedar mulches because they are in keeping with the spirit and purpose that the land understands for itself.
I'm fixing the house, fixing the land, making it right so that we can stay happily until the WTBf is done with his PhD. The land and house are blessedly quiet and calm in comparison to the apartment living we've been used to. They're taking their time to assess us and my intentions. I'm doing the best I know how to do, and in return, small gifts are showing up. Herbs I haven't known how to find. Interesting things turning up as I turn the ground, like foreign coins and odd grubs with legs on the upper half of their body and disturbing, smashed in ochre colored faces. Most of what turns up is leftover building materials - plastic spacers, bent metal stakes, scraps of wood used to shim in the columns, and what seems to be an endless supply of concrete and masonry lumps. What they left in the back yard is far worse, and I'm honestly intimidated by the necessary prospect of it.
For now, the weekend is ahead, and I have a beautiful selection of plants, herbs, and flowers to place in the earth. Rosemary for protection. Lantana for color and to keep the critters away and attract butterflies (the smell gives it the taxonomical name lantana horrida). There's a bottlebrush tree which makes bright red flowers shaped like its namesake. And I have some small herbs to plant either in the earth or in pots - Mexican oregano, lemon balm, and rue.