Mud pie

After four days of visitors and a bit of partying on Saturday night, then on Sunday, me going to visit Frank, my mind was quite full of non-spiritual thoughts. I drank my first cup of hot coffee of the day, then gathered my little kit of gardening implements – a trowel and and secateurs – and went out to water my thirsty plants. There’s nothing like gardening (for me) for giving me time to contemplate and meditate. It’s grounding (sorry for the pun, but I can’t find another word) and calming.

It’s been unseasonably hot here. Usually June is a thoroughly wet month. One June, 1983 I think it was, there were forty days and nights of rain; well, the rain spilled over into May and July a bit, to get that count. I remember it well because I came home from France that year when my Dad died. I arrived in time for the funeral. And if the rain was not depressing enough, and then my Dad, there was a recession going on, just about as bad as this one of 2008 and 2009. I was penniless and in need of a job.

When I phoned Mother, she had said, “Don’t come. There’s no work here.”

But Frank and I had shut the doors on our antiques and collectibles business. Spending had stopped short and money was going out, but it wasn’t coming back in. I came back to Vancouver anyway and then I had to find work.

I did any work I could find. I signed up with a temporary personnel agency. I was a writer in the Provincial elections. The writer is the person who finds your name on a list and crosses your name off when you get your ballot. It’s a bit of a misnomer. No one really writes anything. Just the opposite. The writer strikes through typeface.

It was through the temp agency that I got the clerical job with the Property Management company and that changed my life.  I doggedly hung on and I finally became a Property Manager, even though it took me six years. It was during that time that I taught at the local Art College – at night, during my annual leave, on weekends. Anything was good. And day after day, I went to work, in the middle of June, wearing a raincoat and umbrella.

But now it is just about the opposite. I can’t remember when last we had rain. May 15th, I think. The soil is dry and crumbly like desert sand. Water sits on the surface and does not soak in.

I don’t need to work; I’ve retired and I’m thankful for it. All the work I have is self-imposed. With my new, large garden to take care of, I decided to plant a few vegetables. I’ve never been very good at this. Last year the crop was two thin underdeveloped green beans (yes, just two) and one potato the size of a golf ball. This year I’ve been more adventurous and more hopeful.

Last week, I lucked out (or in) as the local farm was closing its annual plant sale. I managed to buy four flats and about ten individual plants, many of these were edible – a flat of Brussels Sprouts and four inch pots of  tomato, fennel, one artichoke, two cauliflowers, two cucumber, golden globe onions – and I’ve spent spare moments in the last few days trying to get these planted in full earth.

The gardens of this house have been neglected over the past few years. The soil is good in some parts but in others, its poor, sandy and dry. The poor plants need better than that if they are going to develop and produce. Luckily, Whistler brought me ten packages of mushroom and steer manure from the nursery last year when he was staying with me. I haven’t used them up and so I mixed them, one to one, with the dirt that I had shoveled out and then cleared of grass and buttercup mallow.

I was just pouring a half bag of steer manure into my mixing box when I began to think that this activity was no more, no less than the activity I engage in when making cookies and cakes.

With the grass and roots that I had dug out of the front yard beds, I shook off as much loose dirt as possible then let the remainder sit out in the hot sun until the dirt dried out more.  Next I used the wire mesh sieve that I have for the garden to screen out the pebbles and rocks; then I poured in the manure and mixed it around until the enriched soil was half and half, broken up like the crumble on an Apple Betty.

I admit that the shovel I use is bigger than a spoon and the pitch fork is bigger than your average kitchen one, but the activity is the same – sift, blend, stir, spoon out into a pot or a garden bed.

It’s rather satisfying to improve the dirt and put back goodness into the soil. I am counting that it will reward me with a better crop than last year, but I’m crossing my fingers too, and saying my prayers too.


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