Down East 2013 ©
Spring and nothing but buttons and charcoal briquettes left where snowmen stood so recently. Rhubarb like little red fists pushing up out of the ground among the ruins of last’s year’s prodigious foliage. A young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. A middle-aged guy’s thoughts, too — sure, love — but also thoughts of dirt, and before long beet greens, lettuce as well, a few odd asparagus spears, maybe a cool June morning with a carefully cuff-wiped radish hot in the mouth.
The Buddhists say that the source of all unhappiness can be found in the difference between expectation and reality, so in that way my garden is the very definition of unhappiness. Then again, the Buddhists also say that nothing is real, so I guess I don’t have to worry: my garden is imaginary in any case, something I dreamed in another life, back when sunset was at 3:45 and I napped on the couch with a seed catalogue over my face. It’s nothing but potential now, scruffy and beaten down, old straw and oak leaves, not even the garlic emergent, not yet.
I only actually got my seed order in (to Fedco over in Waterville, 45 miles straight east) at the last minute, faxed it in, in fact, late in the afternoon on the last possible day, March 20. I’m not much of a faxer, but after some struggles getting the old machine plugged into the phone jack properly, and after a series of strange, fast busy signals (why would it be so hard for me to remember to dial a 1 first?), after collecting eight or nine fax reports (FAILED!), I managed to feed the order sheet through, get the phone number right, add all the proper numerical prefixes, punch send.
Of course, just then the phone rang.
Elysia answered: it was Mary Rodgers, mother of Elysia’s best friends, a pair of redheaded twins named Phoebe and Isabelle, and a great gardener and herder of chickens (those eggs! Deep orangey yolks and flavor like memory itself).
She can be businesslike: “Bill, it’s the Fedco deadline today and I don’t want to pay the extra for a small order. Also it’s two bucks extra for the fax—did you send yours in yet?”
Mary and I had talked a few months earlier about how we were going to be on time this year, do it by mail, be first in line for the coolest seeds, save the fax bux. On the phone we mourned our good intentions briefly, praised our uncanny deadline awareness, exclaimed at length over the clearly meaningful and surely cosmic coincidence of her call interrupting the very fax in question. On the basis of the omen, we scheduled a play date for the girls the next day, for which they’d need snow suits, hard to remember now, just three weeks later and forty degrees warmer, even with the woods still full of former drifts.
Guilty as charged.
At six and seven, increasing interest and commitment, five minutes of concentration growing to fifteen minutes, then twenty, even an occasional hour here and there. I’d give her one plant from each flat of tomatoes, peppers, leeks, and so on, and somehow, hers would always be the biggest producers when the time came, even crowded as they were into her free-form beds. She’d bury a seed potato here, another one there, and somehow the Colorado beetles never found her out.
But this year, we’re really partners in the enterprise. She’s full of questions, full of advice, full of beans, too, and very excited about the harvest to come. The soil needs to drain, still has plates of ice beneath, but we’ve already prepared a lettuce patch, just a small area at the edge of the garden, dug in with compost. We’ll plant it this weekend, if all goes well, maybe before the Easter party. Back in the fall we found a big old window in its casing under a “free” sign on a lawn in Skowhegan, never painted, and we’ll use it as a cold frame, just lay it over a corner of the lettuce patch — first pickings.
“The cold frame is mine,” Elysia reminds me.
Well, of course it is, of course.
She’s down there with the Windex right now, making sure the sun shines in.
Writer Bill Roorbach lives in Farmington and is the author of Temple Stream, Into Wood and other books and essays.