the patient work of the garden

Consider the hands
that write this letter.

Left palm pressed flat against paper,
as we have done before, over my heart…

from “Consider the Hands that Write this Letter,” by Aracelis Girmay

This morning the city sounds are loud and vibrant: the kids alive over in the schoolyard, the traffic rumbling steady as a lobster boat heading back in from checking the traps, the birds a persistent undersong – still here, nature says. Still here. Still here. Still here.

This weekend I planted cucumbers and watermelon. I put in a splash of carrot seeds. This weekend the bush beans put up their first true leaves. The rain was steady and sure on Friday, and everything in the garden appreciated the feeding. When I run through this city neighborhood, I scan every wild garden — how did they get their nasturtium to grow so full and lush? Maybe I should plant some hens and chicks, bring a little succulence into the front garden patch that’s growing so steadily. I steal ideas freely as I trot by — foxglove, daisies, tall (Roman) chamomile, more salvia, more mint. I tuck them into the spaces between my breaths. I run steady, imagining how my garden could be as fresh and bright as these. When I get home, I do my most important stretch — savasana — out on the driveway while the puppy bangs around me, ball in her mouth, thinking that this is some kind of new game. I practice relaxing: practice releasing. I practice letting the earth pull me to her. I practice letting go of the tension that builds in the right side of my body. Breathe into the tightnesses, exhale release. Try to stay here for two minutes at least. So difficult to let the mind go, stop the spinning and anxieties, the drive to hurry up and get to the next thing. Breathe into the tighenesses, exhale release. An inside-out kind of massage.

Then, while I am still sweaty and cooling, the puppy and I go over to the garden. How is everything looking? There’s another flower on the zucchini plant! The cucumber and watermelon and tomato plants don’t seem to have been phased by the cold snap we got the other night, after the rains. I check the little makeshift greenhouses I’ve made for my dahlia and broccoli plants — something’s been munching them right down to the stems at night, so I took a couple of clear plastic containers, poked holes in the bottoms, and covered the plants right up. I think it’s mr. squirrel, who does not seem to be at all phased by the puppy’s presence or scent in the backyard. I check the groundcover plants I set in around the walking path in the — are they taking root, starting to spread? I smooth out the fat puppy footprints in the soil. Someone isn’t using the walking stones. I pull some purple oxalis from around the strawberries, and pick a few ripe berries before the snails take them over, then push a tendril of nasturtium vine up under one of the threads of twine I’ve strung along the post I’m training the bright orange flowers to grow around — later this season, I hope it’s grown enough to mingle with the grapevines at the top of the trellis. I see that the yarrow is coming back– the whatever-it-is that’s eating the dahlia and broccoli also took some of my newly planted yarrow plants down to the nubs. And some of last year’s wildflowers reseeded and are returning — is this calendula? And maybe one of the gerbers, too! The butterfly weed has put up sprouts, as has the echinacea. The puppy mostly seems to know not to walk where the plants are, at least in the (low) raised beds. Keep your fingers crossed that these tender little plants get established steady before she’s driven to chase a ball through all of our hard work.

This is my office work, my daily gossip, my tendings. The puppy drops down into a splotch of sun, stretches long and folds her front paws one over the other, falling asleep with the ball still in her mouth, ever hopeful. Bees rumble in the orange tree while I weed around the poppy and borage (trying in vain not to get covered with hives after touching the borage leaves). Inhale the tensenesses,  exhale release. Bring water and food where it’s needed, and leave most of it all well enough alone — pay attention to how life tends to life, and to how very much I don’t have any control over. Inhale, exhale. Grin at the mourning doves come to rest up at the top of the grape trellis, and let her song open up something new in my body.


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