Back to the Earth
Board: Gardening and Landscaping
Confession: spring has never been my favorite season.
In the Ozark foothills I grew up in, winters are short and mild … and summers are long, hot, and humid. Spring is that short period of time when the dogwoods bloom. But the season is really so short, and the weather goes from comfortable to not so comfortable very very quickly. Spring means ticks and snakes and poison ivy, which meant to the younger woodymw that playing in the woods was over for awhile.
So I relished the fall – I like the cool weather, and I like the Arkansas winters. I went on a backpacking trip one year on the week before Christmas and had several days with highs in the 60s.
On a different – but, as we shall see, related – note, from the time I moved out of my parents house for college until this year, I lived in apartments. The reality is that apartment living is by far the most economical and, to a degree, even possible, for a 20 something kid trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. Of course, you give up things to live in an apartment. Yards, for example. Really nice outdoor cooking setups. Gardens.
Tomatoes you grow yourself.
During that time I lived in apartments, something changed in me. I didn’t feel it happening. I didn’t know it was happening. But it was happening. I was losing touch with the earth. Seasons came and went, and every year I noticed the passing less and less. Seasons matter; they are part of what makes life on this planet possible, or at least tolerable. But I reached a point where the season only mattered to the extent that I needed to know what kind of clothes to wear when I left the house.
My family is a gardening family. My father’s parents grew two big vegetable gardens – we called them Memaw’s garden and Pawpaw’s garden, though that was just a child’s construct. My mom’s parents are hardcore gardeners – vegetables, ornamentals, flowers … everything. My grandfather can barely move, but he puts in a huge garden every year. My mom and dad put fifty (50!) tomato plants in the ground last year. Those old people understand seasons. They don’t have to look up when the last frost will come – they pretty much know. They don’t have to think about what plant will grow where – they pretty much know. They never did lose touch with the land.
And they get to eat tomatoes that they grow themselves. Every year. To excess.
My journey back to awareness of the rhythm of the earth began when I moved from those Ozark foothills to the New York metro area. Seasons here behave differently. Summers are milder, with only a short window of basically intolerable humidity and heat. Winters are more severe, though that’s not what surprised me – it was the length. Yikes, it is hard to run old man winter out of the northeast.
And spring … spring is glorious. I do believe it lasts longer, but after that never-ending winter even a two-week respite would be fantastic. And though it takes forever to get here, spring sticks around a bit longer … leading to a summer that, to be blunt, doesn’t suck.
Then, last summer, I bought a house. My wife and I bought a house with a big yard, and I immediately started dreaming about a tomato that I grew myself.
Of course, all seasons aren’t spring. I’d never shoveled snow in my life until this winter – and then this area had a record January for snowfall. I had to deal with an old house and everything that goes with it … no air conditioning in the summer, and drafty windows in the winter. But I kept dreaming of those tomatoes. And I started my seeds about 8 weeks ago. And I put the plants in the ground last weekend.
Turns out? All of those things you give up by living in apartments are things that are important to me. And when I lost them, I lost something of me. I lost that connection to my roots – the closer generations like my grandparents, yes … but also my distant ancestors. Those that cooked over fire and ate what they planted. And knew when spring was going to come.
I’ve got 12 tomato plants in the ground, along with some peppers and some squash and a pumpkin plant. If all of that “makes” I’ll wind up giving tomatoes away.
I hope I have to give tomatoes away.
Not to get all awkward and corny, but getting my hands in that dirt … smelling that distinctive tomato plant smell … watching those first sprouts come up … those things all together were almost spiritual. I’m in touch with what the weather is doing like I haven’t been in years. I’m thinking in terms of growing cycles and seasonal rhythms. I’m getting back in touch with the earth, and it’s a pretty great thing. I missed it.
And now I know why people like spring so much.