We’ve had to dismantle our vegetable garden after some drain field problems over Christmas necessitated repairs to the field. Digging up the raspberry canes, perennial herbs and greens, the roses kept safe from deer behind the garden fence, and trying to remember where the clumps of crocus and tulips were to ease them out of their winter sleep, I kept remembering what it was like to make the garden in the first place. I was young (but felt old!), had two, then three small children, and we were finishing our house, bit by bit. In early summer, after the children were in bed, I’d go out and dig furrows with a pick. The soil was rubble, really — I believe it was called “porous fill”, brought in by the guys doing the drain field to cover the lines and level the surface. I gathered seaweed and begged manure from friends with chickens or horses. Every bloom or cabbage was like a miracle.
The garden evolved, not in a tidy or planned way, but lovingly, carelessly. I loved working out there, surrounded by bees in the oregano, snakes sunning themselves on warm soil, finding tiny frogs in the peas, hungry for aphids. Taking it apart, we kept saying, “Let’s treat this as an opportunity to organize things, make better use of the space.” And we do, we will. The repairs are finished and now we are in the process of figuring out where to place beds, where to settle the raspberry canes back into the rich soil. “Rich”, because I’ve dug hundreds of pounds of seaweed in over the years, buckets of compost, and most recently, half a dump-truck load of mushroom manure (the other half-load waiting for spring under a tarp, to be used for potted tomato plants, etc.).
Walking around in the mud this morning, in the rain, I kept remembering those early efforts to make beauty. I need to remember that it all happened in its own time because the place is a mess right now! The first thing we did was put the compost box in place and pace out paths, replant the small Merton Beauty apple tree at the far end. In a few minutes I’ll go out to help John pound in fence posts so we can restring the deer fence. But here’s a small offering for Sunday morning, a poem I wrote, probably the last poem I ever wrote, maybe 25 years ago, after my dear friend, the late Floyd St. Clair, gave me the gift of a an opera (La Rondine). I’d listen to Magda sing of love and her dreams and see the swallows courting above our garden and it was all part of an complex emotional landscape I found myself immersed in.
Standing on the garden path, forgetting
what I’ve come for, scissors in hand
and a small blue bowl,
I watch the swallows reel and turn.
On two fenceposts of the garden,
wait for the nests of dry grass and feathers,
the round opening of home.
In the years before the swallows,
I came out
in the dark, paused in my thin white nightdress
among the new vines of peas, listening
with one ear for the baby,
one ear for owls. Going back
to the house where one lamp burned,
softened by moths, I wanted nothing
so much as flowers and children,
of vegetables, my husband turning to me
as I entered our bed, cool from the garden.
Now I feel old among the broadbeans
and the rows of potatoes.
The swallows whirl and call in flight
as ardently as Magda
sang the high sweet notes
of youth and love
and I clip rosemary, fill my small blue bowl
So much still undone, children half-grown.
The swallows fall from the sky
it takes my breath
sometimes their wing-tips just touching,