It happens to me every year.
In the high heat of summertime, I will gaze across the vast expanse of our weed-choked garden and wonder, What was I thinking? and Who signed me up for all this work? and Is there anyone I can trick into weeding this garden for me?
But my wife has long since become wise to my Tom Sawyer-like machinations, so I’m stuck with weeding the garden myself. And it’s hard to swing a hoe while also swatting mosquitoes. Sometimes the skeeters are so thick, you have to present your blood donor card before venturing outdoors.
Autumn in this part of the world is usually pleasant, but it’s often followed by a long and cruel winter. When spring finally arrives, it’s cause for celebration. The wicked witch of winter is dead!
The air becomes warm and benign. We can go outside without dressing like an astronaut! And we don’t have to worry about freezing to death! It’s a miracle!
Life seems to spring forth from everywhere all at once. Down in the bog, the frogs are chirruping their little heads off, singing their lovelorn arias — songs that only an amphibian can appreciate.
The birds add to the cacophony. Geese boom honks of devotion to one another while robins sit in their treetop pulpits and sing their little lungs out. You can almost see the haze of reproductive hormones.
What puts me over the edge is when the trees begin to bloom. The wild plums are first, perfuming the air and turning each inhalation into olfactory candy. This is followed shortly by the lilacs. I think Heaven must smell like a balmy spring evening when the lilacs are in full bloom and the soil in the grove has just begun to warm.
All these spring things have a powerful effect on my brain. Forgetting the hassles and the hoeing of last summer’s garden, I find myself eager to start over again. Helplessly gripped by spring fever, my wife and I voyage to a greenhouse. We return home with such a quantity of seeds that one might think our garden is the size of an airport. We also have enough potted plants to feed a herd of elephants.
And I can’t wait to get all that stuff into the ground! And so continues a lifelong habit.
In some dusty album, there’s a photo of an 8-year-old me greasing our ancient International Harvester single disc. The photo is in black and white, of course. The entire world was monochrome back then.
The young me looks like a character from a Dickens novel: a skinny kid in a tattered old sweatshirt, face smudged with grunge, glasses slightly askew and held together with a chunk of tape. But what the camera couldn’t capture was the joy of anticipation, the happiness of knowing that the soil was warming and would soon be ready for our ministrations.
Last spring I was able to purchase a twin to that old IH disc. I hooked it to the drawbar of our family’s John Deere A, the venerable tractor I brought back to life a couple of years ago. Hitching up that rig and putting it to work tilling the garden made me feel like the skinny, grungy kid once again. Sadly, the tattered sweatshirt is long gone. Which is too bad; that was my favorite sweatshirt.
It makes little sense, from an economic standpoint, to have a garden. Fresh veggies are cheap and readily available the year round at supermarkets. If I sat down and tallied the expenses — fixing up the old tractor, buying the disc, the stress of justifying it all to my wife — it would probably work out to something like $20 for each tomato.
Whenever I gripe about the garden, my wife will point out that there are more efficient ways to acquire fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t doubt that it will soon be possible to download a pattern from the Internet and print a cantaloupe with a desktop 3-D printer.
But it’s not so much about the destination as it’s about the journey. Yes, spring will gradually give way to summer and yes, the black dirt of my garden will gradually become green with weeds. Visiting the garden will soon involve more hoe-hoeing than a shopping mall Santa.
But there will also be peaceful summer evenings when twilight lingers until well past ten. Out in our garden, the only sound will be the staccato thwack of my hoe.
And from a distance, it may appear that I’m wearing a tattered old sweatshirt. But it’s probably just the cloud of mosquitoes that has found me.
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