One day you are out checking the mail and dodging icicles hanging from the roofline so you don’t wind up as one of those freak accidents on the news. The next week you are no longer focused on the danger above, because at some point they melted and you forgot to take notice. Now, underneath your mailbox the first of the crocuses have made their ascent through the topsoil. It’s only a few degrees above freezing, but there they are in their golden glory, telling old man winter just where to kiss it.
Every morning over the past few weeks I took a mug of coffee and walked to the edge of the backyard hoping to see patches of dead grass appear. And then expand. Finally, the last of the snow receded from the lawn and melted off the garden boxes. Saturday it was in the high forties and sunny. In Utah this means the temperature is warm enough to work in jeans and a T-shirt and run inside to grab a cocktail while you work. Because outside you get to be your own boss.
Readying the beds for planting is one of my favorite aspects of gardening. You get to take an inventory of the past. Popsicle sticks scrawled with permanent marker lay on their sides. Each was labeled with a vegetable followed by the date I last stuck them in the ground: spinach 3/21, arugula 3/24, and chard 4/6. They were my gambles that paid off. The rows of carrots rotting in the sun behind them are the ones that didn’t.
I removed the leaf cover blown over from my apple tree in the fall, and uprooted the carrots that didn’t make it out of the ground before the first freeze of winter. Next I pulled a few limp heads of chard. Their roots were nearly a foot long and two inches thick at the base. I snapped one in half and for some reason immediately lifted it to my nose. It smells like life, I said to myself.
Afterward I hoed the dirt and inspected the compost pile. This probably sounds gross. But I assure you, it’s awesome. Flipping over the pile reminds me of hiking in the woods behind my house as a kid with my little brother Matty. We would turn over rocks and fallen branches and watch as bugs we didn’t recognize scuttled out of the sunlight. And then repeat.
This time I found a ladybug. This is her. I am hoping she sticks around long enough to have babies that will grow up in my garden – at least for the first crop rotation.
After my discovery I turned and looked into my neighbor Jack’s yard. It was brown and dead too. He was raking leaves from his raspberry bushes when I called over to tell him of my find.
“So you’re going to garden again?” he asked. “That’s good. It means your going to stay. You’re going to at least be around for the harvest.”
I nodded. And for the first time, it hurt to think about. Just a few hours before I walked to the seed and supply shop down the street and bought packets for peas, spinach, onions, kale, chard, carrots, and beets. I swept my fingers through the strawberry patch and noticed new leaves beginning to sprout. The truth is I always knew I would plant again this spring. I just haven’t thought beyond putting seeds in the ground and waiting for something to happen.
When we moved in to our house three Aprils ago, the planter boxes were filled with spaghetti squash somebody grew and left behind. At the time I thought it was sad. Even disrespectful somehow. I clipped the dried vines from the beds and tossed them onto the compost heap wondering just who these people were and why they left without their damn squash. Now I realize that it isn’t always about the harvest in the end. Sometimes all you can do is plot your garden and try to keep the weeds out. Because life will come whether I am here or not.