Originally written in the spring of 2008
Sophia digs her toes within the white sand while working on a castle. A territorial starling snaps from its nest hidden above the chives and sage in a blue black bolt of feathers and beak. Sophia continues to sculpt with her plastic shovel and dump truck. She is surrounded by the shaggy lawn of early spring. Colonies of dandelions and forget me nots are woven amongst the lavender clover blossoms. I have been laboring with the bamboo sprouts that continue to reappear next to the cedar trees where the mounds have been strategically placed for red French pumpkins, muskmelons and cucumbers.
Migrating song birds such as the common robin have finally lost their lustful advance and bob for worms at a safe distance from the sandbox and the quiet construction taking place within. Spring is at a peak all around us. The tulips are in full blossom and the apple trees display a quiet pageant of subtle pink and virgin white flowers that promise an abundance of fruit this fall. Our beagle lies beneath the crooked branches of the eldest apple tree drunk on the spring sun. The soil in the garden has been turned and then turned again.
Upon closer inspection of the herb garden one will notice the activity of a much smaller though no less important world. A brave black ant patrols the strawberry plants, his smaller cousins scurry to and fro with prize possessions clinched between their mighty jaws. A bumblebee tilts above a forest of violets like an unsteady zeppelin. An occasional black fly settles into his role of the nuisance. Roots grip the soil, thirsty, firm. Tender leaves unfold slow and delicate like fingers lifting from a newborns palm. The brittle bones of last years harvest decorate the cultivated area amongst the stone borders built by my wife and I during a summer past.
I have been reading "Down to Earth Vegetable Gardening" by Dick Raymond religiously since the peak of winter. It was a gift from my Grandmother McElligott, originally the book belonged to her father, Paul Sanford Galloway. From the conversation we recently had he was quite a character. He was a hard drinking Irishman whose itchy feet would have inspired even great tramps such as Keurack. One night he reportedly came home one while the family lived in Maryland and out of the blue simply said "Anybody gonna move to Virginia with me, cause if you are we're leaving now." His exploits took him all the way from the Alaskan pipeline to the south pacific during WW2.
I remember as a child being intimidated by his blue collar scowl that I now know upon looking back was simply his knowing smile. He had piercing eyes that quickly evaporated any thoughts of lying. His jaw was solid like that of a champion pugilist and his hands were strong from a life of honest labor. I remember quite vividly running through his gardens that were dense in vegetation, easy for a child to get lost in. He was from the "old" school, for example, he put iron nails in the dirt to provide nutrients for the soil. Reading through his book I find many such remedies;
"An old-timer taught me a trick that seems to work pretty well. After the plants have been indoors for six to eight weeks, I set them out in the garden. Before I transplant, I rip the matches out of a couple of matchbooks and put them in the bottom of the hole where the plant will be set. The peppers seem to enjoy the sulfur in the matches, perhaps because the sulfur lowers the pH of the soil around the roots."
Dick Raymond, 1975
Page 132 paragraph 3
Down to Earth Vegetable Gardening Know-How
Now decades later my daughter and I follow his faded footprints in the bed of our garden. I often wonder if my grandchildren will remember the fist sized tomatoes from my garden or the green peppers large enough to cook a stew in.
That is the aspect of gardening I enjoy. It truly chronicles the passage of time, acknowledges that we are shepard's of this fertile land, from seed to harvest, one generation to the next we pass along knowledge and folklore in hopes of watching it grow.