The tips of at least eight of my ten fingers hurt. I have dirt wedged underneath all ten fingernails, as if I’m giving a (dirty) finger to manicures and personal hygiene and memories of manicures in a long-ago lifetime pre-2020, that was only like last week in real time. My forearms look as though a cat with all its claws and I were in a tussle and the cat won. I keep sneezing. Flying bits of this pervasive creeping weed keep launching themselves into the corners of my eye, assuming my ductwork will activate its system to work them out. My knees are dependent on the memory foam cushion double-wrapped in a trash bag plus pillowcase to protect their tenderness. My inaugural bath of the gardening season was a necessity for dirt’s removal and my body’s functionality, rather than a luxury soak, although one day I’ll luxuriate instead of nap in those not quite deep enough tepid waters of my tub. You know what? It’s actually all ten; they all hurt.
One year ago I was digging holes exactly 24 inches apart; we used a yardstick for consistency and the gardener’s need for exactness. Planting the bell pepper plants he grew from seed was the highlight of those early April days; what he’d so meticulously and lovingly nurtured in the greenhouse was ready for earth’s reception. The sugar snap peas had been in-ground for some weeks already and by now last April their delicate green leaves, barely an inch tall, carpeted a soft path underneath the chicken wire fencing, where they had been planted with purpose and given the chance to reach up and grab hold, growing as tall as they like, and by mid-May they were just showing off, no longer timid or shy at their own green goodness.
Hundreds of yards of weeds were pulled up and rolled up like an outdated shag rug no longer in vogue. 55-gallon trash cans were filled over and over and over again, whose count I have long since lost track (because I never did count or keep track) and were weekly placed in a neat row curbside, providing for the landfill a seemingly never-ending supply of that which the earth grew, but no longer served or was needed here in our bit of earth for which we are the caretakers. Thank you city heavy lifters for carrying that which I could not.
My dad, the master gardener and the orchestrator of greenhouse growing, of manicured beds and of thousands of blossoms, had the vision and the plan for beauty and bounty’s execution. I was simply his hands, his knees, his hurting fingertips, his laborer of Love.
On the hot and heavy morning of July 4, 2020, I dug up and filled a five-gallon bucket with my dad’s rich compost pile, the backyard mound stretching the length between the manicured lawn and the wild area he’d allowed to overgrow for as many years as he’d been creating and contributing leftover potatoes, banana peels, egg shells, and any and all kitchen scraps our family could not use, plus yard clippings and piles of fresh-cut grass from every mowing. All my dad always said he wanted was to be buried in his compost pile, to be part of the earth he loved and lived in, the ground he spun into a precious gold soil, made noticeably better by the burgeoning number of earthworms moving through its warm and pulsating pathways. As my last tribute on that July 4 morning, I stood at the earth’s edge and dumped that bucket full of his hand-grown earth right on top of him, covering the length of the box inside the ground now the holding place for him.
My birthday on the first of April announced spring’s arrival with all its carpets of weeds, allergens, blooming bushes of Forsythia, Camellia, and Azalea. Surprisingly, it also exposed a growth inside of me — a deep-rooted longing I can only suppose was planted (unbeknownst to me) by my dad — a longing to have the tips of all ten of my fingers sore again from digging, to have dirt wedged underneath my fingernails, to have my knees shrouded from direct contact with the ground, and to be surrounded and filled with the vision, the plan, and the knowing of my master gardener father.
I am now leading my own orchestration of the garden given into my care as one of his final deeds in the dirt. Manicured beds are filling with (at least) hundreds of blossoms, beauty and bounty’s execution this time being enacted and implemented on my own, with my own hands, my own knees, my own hurting fingertips: my labor of Love guided by whispers from above and the dirt below.