The Dichotomy of Dirt, and Other Things
Sometimes, dirt is heavenly. The smell, the rich, cakey texture, the possibilities and promises in its fertile expanse. Sometimes, dirt is a necessary evil, a parched, rock strewn wilderness hindering passage to The Promised Land. As a passionate (read: Nerdy) gardener, I am a witness both of blessed abundance rising miraculous from the soil, and the reality and disappointment of hard baked desert alkali.
I am also mistress of a house. Houses and gardens theoretically look great together (as seen in Better Homes and Gardens and on Pinterest), but in real practice, they are barely compatible. Dirt recognizes no human boundaries. It is always creeping over thresholds, leaving smudgy footprints, throwing messy parties in corners and on furniture.
Especially…dirt is what it is; it resists reform. Only the most faithful sculpting and amending (read: Sweat. Cracked hands feet lips. Farmer’s tan) can improve it. Even then, Mother Nature has the final word. She imposes her own conditions and deadlines.
Around here, she dictates that spring and summer, as they whiz by on the wings of a planet spinning crazy fast through space, are the time for dirt work.
We tried to keep up. I thought we had spring well in hand, but it was over almost as soon as it began. Summer too—Opening on the down low with a funeral, gathering speed with Ezra’s leaving, rising in a quick, sweet crescendo for Maurya and Dennison’s wedding, and then slipping sneakily out the back door with Michaelyn and Meisha’s birthdays hidden in its pockets. I only have vague recollections of the Fourth; I’m pretty sure we worked in the dirt all that livelong day, til we lay exhausted on a nearby church lawn for fireworks. Nora and I lounged at the pool together a total of three times all summer (Nora counted). Our family (minus Ez, Maurya, and Dennison) hiked once (it was an epic and amazing day, though…I have to say). In certain moments, I feel either like the victim of grand larceny, or a bemused, love-stranded maiden—the kiss stolen, the swain disappearing in a crowd.
I guess either way it’s grand larceny.
Now Labor Day weekend is here; neighbors load trailers with four wheelers and boats; moms push strollers and stop and chat with each other on the corner. And Frank and I have been and will be shoveling, wheelbarrowing, and raking dirt, working desperately to get the front yard planted in grass (and my premature perennial and shrub refugees tucked safely in their borders) before irrigation shuts off the first week or so of October. In the last couple weeks, we’ve moved two monster truck loads of dirt—Frank says twenty cubic yards; I say a Texan acre. We’ve been moving truckloads of dirt off and on all summer. Mostly by wheelbarrow (our budget doesn’t have room for equipment rental—it barely has room for grass seed).
Until a neighbor down the street stopped on his way back from the mailbox, and offered his four wheeler and trailer. Embarrassed by our conspicuous vulnerability and our sweat stains, we hesitatingly accepted. He walked home and came back with the gig, bringing his little boy (just back from a soccer game) to help, and proceeded to fill his homemade (and oh so nifty!) trailer with dirt, shovelful by shovelful. Again and again, recounting as we shoveled together how his trailer had saved his bacon when he and his wife did their own yard. One trailer load is the equivalent of four or five wheelbarrows (a wheelbarrow the equivalent of almost thirty shovelfuls); he helped us move about six trailers full, his kiddo in tow (or maybe as figurehead?).
We were astounded by his generosity, though we shouldn’t have been… we have been getting that kind of love all season.
Earlier in the spring, another neighbor lent the family tractor (a communal heirloom), days and weeks at a time. One hot afternoon, a third neighbor manned the wheelbarrow for a couple of hours… just showed up with his broken English and took it out of my hands and got it done. Twice as fast as I could have. A fourth neighbor dug up iris and daylilies and gave me boxes of starts, insisting her son help me carry the boxes of transplants to my house (she also helped me make cream puffs for the reception). Neighbors passing on family bike rides and walks stop and offer encouragement and shared confidence in our project. Daily.
Beyond the dirt (or around it? despite it?), the help we received from our community, friends, and family with Ezra’s farewell and Maurya and Dennison’s reception was…well, frankly, beyond wonderful. Monumental. Humbling. Too much to mention here now (but I hope to mention it here later); so, so sweet to us.
So that in the end, it’s all good somehow. A thing of beauty. The dirt, the grand efforts, the blisters, the messes, the missed deadlines, the glimmering snippets of wonder and peace and celebration, the friendship and love woven throughout. It’s all good. And I’m glad.