A Monday afternoon in late February, and the temperature on the front porch hovers just above freezing. Even so, a ring-necked turtle dove, ready to begin some spring-time business, has been calling all day, “Coo-coo-oo-cook, coo-coo-oo-cook.”. His isn’t one of my favorite birdsongs, and the urgency in his voice sets me a little on edge.
Oh, it’s true, I like the drowsiness of winter mornings and the spaces the season leaves on my calender, but I have to say, I’m not reluctant to leave this winter behind. It’s only that my sense of urgency is different from the dove’s.
His is all about being out there, above ground, and in the heat of making more of himself. Mine is subterranean.
I’m considering foundations. In life, I’m thinking about those stories I’ve told myself for just about ever, stories about unworthiness, limitations, and struggle. Those foundational thoughts, color my perceptions, and give rise to my crop of actions. I’m calling most of them into question.
When I transfer these current musings to gardenhood, I think about soil, soil being the foundation of the garden. Its content and pH color foliage and flowers and determine the proliferation above its surface. What’s above the surface in every garden gets most everyone’s attention, mine included. What’s below the surface, however, makes most of the upward show possible.
Turns out, that the soil on the flat corner lot is depleted.
Late last summer, right about the same time my family and I were getting Dad’s mind and body evaluated, I took a couple of cups of soil to the dirt doctor. She ran tests. She gave me the sobering results. She also gave me a prescription and sent me home with supplements and instructions.
Like the news about Dad, the diagnosis of my soil’s condition really shook me. I thought I knew my soil. I thought it was basically sound. It looked dark. It crumbled somewhat easily. I had assumed that a layer of mulch would invite the worms to dinner, and soon, the presumably adequate soil would be black gold. The lack of real knowledge about the soil and the holes in my logic made me question my gardening qualifications.
To my credit, I was more than willing to eat my humble pie. The competent soil doctor armed me with bags of stuff and a plan. One weekend, I dug all the plants out of a bed along the chainlink fence. I forked in compost and various supplements. I raked out clumps. When plants went back into the bed, their holes received a dusting of mycorrhizae.
As Dad’s condition declined, there wasn’t time to redo more beds, but in the remaining weeks before hard frost, I saw a marked difference in the vitality of the plants above ground. Walking past the bed, I could even smell the life of the soil. The raised surface of that bed has reminded me all winter about the goodness underground. The experience has been smoldering, transmuting the feelings of shock and embarrassment into visions of healthy soil.
Dad left his earthly life nearly four months ago. I’m reentering mine.
It’s a year to begin the productive areas of the garden, the spaces for beans, squash, tomatoes, herbs, strawberries, and more. Before the beauty above, however, there will be bounty below. In me as in the garden, I’ll take my time and tend the soil.