Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hoya Saxa!

You would think that after thirty years of tilling all of the rocks would be gone. Not! - although this year they (four of them) didn't turn up until about half way into the raking process. And then two more when I was actually planting.

Our vegetable garden was just another area of grass back in 1977 when, under the careful direction of Mars' father, I dug into the sod for the first time. I used a garden shovel and a garden fork that I incorrectly called a pitchfork at the time. When I cultivated today I used the same two tools - as I also did each of the intervening twenty-eight years. Then and now I also use a metal rake with short stiff tines that, through the wonders of modern technology, I just learned is properly called a "bow rake". And for the past ten or so years I've also employed an television infomercial device called "The Claw" that I acquired at that time from an auction of used stuff held by the men's garden club to which I belong.

Each and every year I make at least two, and sometimes as many as four, complete passes over the garden. It all depends upon how moist and clumpy the earth is and, consequently, how much turning and tossing it takes to convert it from one solid monolith of mud into an area of much smaller dirt pebbles that sift easily through your fingers.

I push the digging implements into the earth as far as they can go, lift the dirt, and dump it back onto itself. The first round is always with the shovel. The second, etc. are with the garden fork. The first round results in about two thousand (actually I've never counted them - but an awful lot of) shovel-sized clods of dirt. The second, if I'm lucky, increases that lump count one hundred-fold (or so) and decreases the average lump size proportionately. If the gardening gods are not cooperating then the garden looks roughly the same after both passes. To the best of my recollection it has never taken more than a total of four circuits to reach a state of rake-ability.

But nowadays before I rake, I claw. This bright blue implement's only purpose in life, as far as I can tell, is to break up small clumps of dirt into smaller clumps of dirt. The business end is a set of four tines arranged in an arthritic looking configuration. At the top is an s-shaped handle. You jam the claw into the ground and rapidly twist the handle, lifting the device up rapidly after each rotation and dropping it down quickly for its next. On good days I can get a really smooth syncopation going. Then my mind wanders, I grab air instead of dirt, and I torque my shoulders like an owl too-rapidly rotating its head. After the resultant pain radiates down my back and out the bottom of my feet I take a deep breath and continue.

Usually I go over the garden twice with "The Claw" just because its so damn much fun and this is the only time I ever use it. Then I make several trips over the garden - back and forth, up and down, with the bow rake. Until the dirt pieces are acceptably small.

In each of these steps, for twenty-nine years, I have found stones - some small, some big - and thrown them aside. At the end of the first year I foolishly believed that they all were gone. In the early days, even though they kept reappearing each year, I tossed them haphazardly into the adjacent bushes. Then, becoming convinced that they were creeping back into the garden during the off-season, I placed them across the yard in a pile - or, in particularly paranoid years, threw them into the trash.

This year I got all the way through the shoveling, raking and clawing and announced to Mars that the rocks were finally, absolutely gone. They weren't. They were just toying with me.

I suppose I could electronically tag them - you know to try and track their movements. Nah! That's just crazy! The noise of those little beepers creeping across the yard would keep both the neighbors, and us, awake at night.

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