So, there I was, stepping out of my Chevy van, cane in hand, anxiety at heart, and vulnerability everywhere I didn’t look. I shut the door to the car and unfolded my cane as I took a deep breath. Sweeping out around the front of the van, I could hear the rumble of a passing train, heading south through downtown Fairfield. I could hear the traffic crossing the Kennebec bridges. I could hear the brilliant songs of a cardinal just to the north of me, and a robin to the east. I heard a couple dogs barking, and I heard what sounded like someone in the neighborhood throwing cut up wood into a small metal utility trailer that you pull behind a lawn tractor. Well, at least that’s what it sounded like.
Sweeping out in front of the car, I found the edge of the parking lot and stopped. I stared out across a blank screen as another wave of anxiety swept over me. I could see the faint white blob of a large plastic barrel that was used as a sight guide to get down onto the lawn. I could see murky mirages of where the garden trailer was that held the stakes, the poles, and the wire fencing materials. I could picture the garden in my mind, but that’s as far as it went. I knew it was out there, and I knew David was in it, working away. I also knew that I wanted me some of it in the worst way.
Down past the trailer I banged with my cane. smacking it with a determined flurry as I made my way around the newly discovered obstacle and towards the rows.
The sun was shining bright, and the day was calling for someone to gradually turn up the thermometer. I loved the thought of the sun warming my back as I crouched down into the rowed soil. I loved the anticipation of getting my knees dirty. I loved it all, ‘cept for the fact that I couldn’t see any of it. I could feel it though. I could touch it and reach deep in my memory, pulling out everything that I could remember from my own gardens of the past.
Those are all such good memories. I was sure they would come in handy, again and again.
Nearing the garden, I could see faint lines of cardboard laid out between the rows. I could see hints of row markers drifting in the morning breeze. I could smell the soil, and it smelled wonderful. It smelled just as I remembered it, with a hint of sweetness, a pinch of freshness, and a dash of solitude.
I stood and stared down the row that was lying in front of me. I wanted to chuck my cane into the woods and have at it. I wanted to kneel down and drive my hands, my soul and spirit deep into the soil. I wanted a tray of plants and seed, right there, at my feet. I wanted my vision back in the worst way, but I had so many visions already, some of which were from the olden days, and some of which were forming in my mind, right there in front of me. I kept repeating to myself, “Your looking east, with north to the left, and south to the right. North to the left and south to the right.”
I looked up to try and see the bright ball of fire in the sky, but it eluded me. I knew it was there, and it felt wonderful on my face.
With my cane pulled up from the ground, I started down between the tasks of rows in front of me, completely unsure, and incredibly off balance. Like a weeble, I wobbled down through the narrow row, scuffing my feet along the cardboard laid out along the way. I could feel the earth build upwards to the sides of me, into the crop rows, and it continually teetered me left and right. I felt like a doddering old billy goat, shuffling across the kitchen floor, on the way to, hopefully and eventually, the bathroom.
Gradually, after a day and a third, I finally found the end of the row. I finally found my way through sixty seconds and seventy feet of sheer insecurity, and enlightenment, both at the same time. I found my way across a soiled sea of splendor, that same sea that had soothed my weary soul at home for nearly twenty years. I celebrated in my mind, and then tried to make my way to the utility shed.
The maps in my head that I was trying to build were tumbling and twisting left and right. My internal compass was spinning out of control, and I had no idea which direction was up. I was turned around and flipped over, not remembering what direction I had entered the rows, not remembering which direction the parking lot where my wife had dropped me off was, not remembering where the river was, or the bridges, or Main Street. I remembered none of it, and the anxiety started filling in the nooks and crannies of a disoriented gardener.
I stopped and turned, asking david where North was. He told me, and it didn’t make sense. I felt all spun around and twisted into a spinning lawn ornament.
As soon as I found the shed, I remembered where he told me to hang up my cane, so I did. Taking another deep breath, I turned and tried to make heads or tails out of where I was, and where the garden rows were. I again saw the faint lines of the cardboard between the rows, so I shuffled through the grass towards them. I could hear David’s voice in the garden. He told me that he was in row five, so I pretended I knew exactly what he was talking about. Moving closer to the row, I got another rush of anxiety, wondering and worrying about stepping on top of the rows instead of the aisles of cardboard. I wondered and worried about every little possible thing that could go wrong. I knew how hard he had worked on garden prep, and how quickly I could stumble my way into tearing down his bean and tomato fencing, or ruining his rows with sight lines, or mash my way down through his garlic, which by the way was already nearly four feet tall. I wondered, and I worried, and then, I stepped down between the rows once again. It felt good, it felt right, it felt scary as all get out, but I moved down through once again. The determination and exhilaration I felt in my body, for a moment, erased all of my doubt, all of my worry, all of my inhibitions, and left me with that same desire that I had brought with me from my dirt digging, sod picking past.
As I moved up along side of where he was working, I stopped and inhaled the fresh aroma of awaiting earth. I breathed in deep, anticipating how the loosened soil would feel between my fingers. I remembered all of the gardens from my past, walking through the freshly tilled dirt with my bare feet. I remembered the coolness of the morning soil between my toes, I remembered watching the robin’s stomp across the garden, trying to stir up their morning medley, I remembered so many things, and for a moment, I could see them all, right there in front of me, just a hand trowel away.
I remembered, and then I heard, “Come on down here.”, which was all I needed to hear. Slowly, with the balance of a three legged stool, I knelt down onto the cardboard between the rows. I could vaguely see the dark contours of the built up rows to my left and to my right. Their shadowed lengths seemed to go on forever, as I paused and tried to slowly take it all in.
“Ok then. How’s about we get you going with working your way down through the row to your right. You can work the mulch on top down into the soil.”
Those words were all I needed. They were like violins playing a soothing sonata that cascaded down from the heavens. Words to soothe the soul never found a better home, as I again took another deep breath and leaned down into the row. My left hand steadied myself, as my right hand found the cool soil. With the first touch, my vision came alive. My mind raced down through the rows, remembering the countless hours spent leaning down into the Battleridge soil back in Clinton. My mind veered to the left, and swayed back to the right with countless images of sunny days, bent down in the gardens of my past, loosening the soil, creating the rows, furrowing the lines of soil, planting the seed, smiling at the growth, and living the wonderment of many a harvest. My mind reminded me of the textures, of the fragrances, of the colors and the coolness and the moisture, and yes, of all the weeds. I tried erasing those weeded memories quickly as I grabbed my first handful of soil.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I smiled and brought the handful of soil to my nose. I inhaled the fragrance and drifted away, back to the past once again. The aroma grabbed hold of me and plugged me in. Again I smiled as I set the moist soil back on top of the row. I carefully started working my way down through that first row of rows, shuffling with my knees as I went. The sun warmed me from head to toe as I diligently grabbed and worked the soil down through. It had been nearly three years since I had been on my knees in a garden, and it all seemed to fit perfectly. The feelings, the emotions, the sense of belonging, all of it made sense, and I was right smack dab in the middle of it.
By the time I had clutched and worked my way down through the length of soil, a familiar feeling had swept down through me. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it entirely. I sensed a place of belonging, a feeling of soothing calm, a sensation of purpose. I felt like I had found a long lost friend. I felt like I had jumped head first into the pages of a wonderful book. I felt as though I had stepped through the doorway, back into the future of my past. I felt at ease with it all. I felt the warm chill rush up through me as I turned at the end of the row.
I turned in the direction of where I thought Dave was, “What next?” I knelt, crouched in the soil with my dirty hands on my thighs, awaiting my next directions to take me into the tomorrow’s of a brand new day.
So many feelings raged through me. So many sensations pulled me back and shoved me ahead. So many shelves full of movie reels played out in my mind . So many wonderful possibilities lay, just under me.
I again felt an electric rush surge down through my entire body as I sat quietly, listening to the morning.
I felt like I was standing along side a garden full of old friends. With the loosened earth all around me, with the sun in the sky, and with the soil at my feet, I felt like I had finally arrived, back home where I belonged.