My hands are sore. My back aches. I am sweating and bugs are buzzing in my face, tangling up in my hair. I take a break to pull my sweaty mop back into a ponytail, look out over the field, and a white tail is staring back at me. Remember, she says. Don’t work too hard.
I am digging a rectangle inside a frame to grow vegetables. It’s full of dirt, soft on top, hard on the bottom. I want to dig a foot below the ground surface so my babies will have lots of room to reach their delicate roots down deep.
I will dig that foot down one row at a time, but I can’t get the spade to go deep enough. I get hardly eight inches before I hit something so hard the metal scrapes against it like a rock. I tell myself it’s enough. I can’t dig through rock. Maybe there’s a boulder down there. There’s a boulder I can see not ten feet from here. It takes me an hour to do one row.
I let it go a few days. I can feel it pulling at me, begging me to get it done. My babies stare at me, crying to be put into their new beds. It’s windy one day. It’s cold another. Finally, the weekend comes and I say, I am getting this done, no matter what.
A friend tells me about some aged manure that’s sitting up on the Borland Road, free for the taking. I load two garbage cans and two five-gallon buckets of the beautiful shit into the back of the Subaru. It looks and feels like sand. My back cries the rest of the day.
I get Dave to help me dump the garbage cans into the bed, even though I haven’t finished digging into the hard dirt underneath. I figure the fertilizer will get worked into the soil as I dig, which is an okay idea but it means I have to move a lot more dirt around.
There are three or four kinds in my rectangle. Some is black and hard as cement. There is brown stuff that feels like decomposed redwood, soft and fragrant. Chunks of it break apart in my hands like sand. There is airy hummus, brown and rich and then there is light gray stuff, comes in rocks that I have to punch hard to break up. When it does, tiny little pebbles fall through my fingers.
I get a rhythm going. I shove that spade hard. I work it back and forth until the earth gives. Then I sit on the edge of the frame, reach in and grab the rocks of dirt and break them up. I feel like I’m dancing with it, giving and taking, feeling it close. I’m out there for an hour and a half and I tell myself I’m almost done.
I go back out in the afternoon. In an hour I can finish this thing. I pull out a rock the size of a football. This is hard work but I’m doing it. Like stacking wood, it’s painful and satisfying together. I can’t stop until it’s finished. I pull out another mini boulder, and another, and scores of smaller stones.
Frances comes out to help. She likes picking out the rocks and pitching them. Me too. She calls the dirt clumps that look like rocks, “fakes.” She collects big stones in the wheelbarrow.
A pair of chickadees sings to us from the big spruce that towers over the garden. I hear the little hummer buzz by but I don’t see him. He’s busy showing off to his girl.
Frances leaves, bored by the endless task. My stomach aches. What did I eat? It’s my body trying to get my attention. Stop! It says. You’ve done enough. Just a little more. I have to get this right. I have to get the whole thing dug down. I can’t stop until I’m sure its all soft. The sun is setting and I ignore it and my daily chore of cooking dinner.
I reach the last corner. I dig in the spade, making sure it goes in easy a full foot below the ground. I try again, and again and again until I know I’m finished.