This morning I woke, tested my blood sugar, got dressed and went straight out to the backyard. I can't explain it, but I needed to plant something. I dug through the seed packs on my gardening bench until I found an envelope of impatiens, then looked around for a shady spot I could plant them. The rains last night left the pot I chose wet and welcoming, so I didn’t even have to water. I came inside to drive the kids to school, bringing with me my whole basket of seed packs. I didn’t feel satisfied. There was a point I was needing to get at, but my brain hadn’t found it yet. As I drove through town, I began to realize what it was.
There is only one book in my life besides the scriptures that I have read repeatedly; Eat More Dirt: Diverting and Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending an Organic Garden by Ellen Sandbeck. I pick it up and find within it’s pages nuggets (or aggregates, as gardeners would prefer) of wisdom and philosophy. It is not, for me, so much a gardening book as a way of looking at my life and the challenges it presents.
In the book, we learn that we often create gardens that we hate to tend. We buy plants we love, only to watch them perish in the wrong soil. We long for bursting blooms and bountiful harvest, only to be rewarded with the munched on stems of sun loving plants that are struggling in the shady locations we have placed them. We battle weeds, the same ones, or children of the prior generation, out of the same spots over and over again.
I got my book out the other day to loan it to a friend. I opened it’s cover to read the inscription in my father’s block script; “Laine, I promise, the more dirt you eat, the happier you will be. Happy Birthday. Love, Dad”. It is the last gift my father gave me before his mind clouded up and dementia began to take root. I love that book for so many reasons.
I hadn’t intended to start reading it again, but before I knew it, I was well into the first chapter before I finally set it aside to give to my friend the next morning. This time I read about battling weeds, particularly those that grow out of the cracks in the cement. Of course, as chemicals -which easily flow off the walkway and into the drains that lead to the river- are certainly not a conscious option, one might be left with the task of constantly wrestling the weeds out by hand each time they popped up. The author suggests something so obvious and yet so elegant.
Nature is a modest lady, and she wishes to keep herself covered when bare. If you don’t cover her, she will cover herself. Why not do it for her?
When I got home from taking the kids to school, I dug through my seed basket collecting all of the freebie wildflower seeds that I have saved from baby showers and the bank (why does the bank give out wildflower seeds?). I mixed them in a bowl and headed out. Armed with not a spade, but a toothpick, I got on my knees on the front walk. There, already one step ahead of me and very much a confirmation that this was a wise plan, a single alyssum flower from those planted in a pot nearby sprouted up from a little green stem in the crack of the step.
I pinched out weeds and began shoving tiny seeds into the cracks, packing them down with the toothpick. I focused my efforts in the places where the weeds were the healthiest. If a weed could thrive in that spot, surely these little seeds had a chance.
As I pulled the weeds, I found other undesirables. Several weeds gave way to expose the opening to ant's nests. One weed gifted me with a hidden slug that I half smashed in my bare fingers before I released my grip. It limped, if slugs can limp, away down the crack to look for another hiding place. I had to wash twice to get the slime off.
I am sure there is a metaphor taking root for me here, though it is not quite clear. Maybe I like the idea that those places in us that are a seedbed for ugliness can become the receptacle for goodness if when we, after countless attempts at weeding out the qualities in ourselves that we find undesirable (only to find that they have sprouted up again and again), would only take an extra moment to replace the bad seed with a good one. Our souls and lives are fertile places, and if we neglect to plant seeds of goodness in the cracks that we all have, our very nature might sow ugly thoughts, habits and behaviors. Slimy things and creepy crawlies thrive in those cracks, and can be hard to evict once they have set up residence.
Maybe it speaks to me because dealing with the weeds in one small crack seems more manageable than wrangling those that are thriving and sprawling in other places in my yard. A few days ago, that same friend offered to come help me with house work. “You are going to think I am crazy,” I said impishly, “but do you think we can just pull weeds?” There are some tasks that are so much bigger than I am. But a crack? That I can handle alone.
Those little seeds have an uphill battle. Certainly they are not starting out under the best of circumstances. Hopefully they will hang on and maybe even thrive, even if it’s only a few that do.