My daughter sunk above her knees into the snow over my garden. Somewhere, deep down, lies my garlic. Are you stirring, little white cloves? In your tender hearts, are green shoots stretching?
Bit by bit, the world changes. Starting with the soil, I’m searching for ten solid beacons of spring. How much better does the world get for children than mud?
The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.
Last fall, I dug potatoes in the school’s garden with the kids on one of those crystalline autumn days rampart with sun and the darkening emerald of summer’s end. One boy reached down and scooped up a handful of soil. With his finger, he stirred through, unearthing a centipede, glacial pebbles, a shard of white quartz. Around us lay the garden opened up for harvest, the stalks torn free from the rows of potatoes, the tomato and cucumber beds emptied of their frost-killed vines. In this sizable sprawl of black earth, this child stared intently into a single handful of dirt.
Today, weeding, I thought of this child again. With what joy he would see what lay in this garden. When I finished what I could do, I stood back and looked over my small measure of order, the vegetable rows surrounded by tiny tiaras of crown vetch. I thought again of this child-sized handful of soil, the dirt now masked under July layers of stalk and vine and straw and leaf. And yet, it’s the soil we always return to, the mother of our sustenance, the ever-changing constant.
But cultivation’s hold is always tenuous. The sense of order and safety it imparts will change if you turn your back on it: the brush grows in, the night comes on, old fears crowd you. It’s a skittering truth….