Saturday, March 12, 2016

This Is What I Remember

It would happen every March on one of those weekends that start off cool – then become warm enough to make a gardener believe in the imminent probability of spring.  A day to go outside in a short-sleeve tee, a flannel shirt, and a down vest – and strip down to just the innermost layer as the work grew more strenuous and the sunlight became more intense.

The task at hand was the turning of the soil in Mars and my vegetable garden.  That piece of land is now devoted to (mostly unknown) perennials rescued from destruction in the town’s now-defunct “Heritage Garden” at the Town Hall, and gifts from friends who were not quite sure what they were giving us  – but were certain that we would like it.  Back in those days however it was the home to several varieties of easily identifiable and annually planted edibles.  And the yearly turning of the soil in that bed was my ritual equivalent of  throwing out the first ball of the gardening season.

And Nicole Marie – our fifty-five pound, black Labrador Retriever / Irish Setter cross was always there to help. 

My weapons of choice were a garden fork (aka spading fork, digging fork or graip) for loosening, lifting and turning over the soil; a bow rake to break up dirt clods and smooth out the area; and, to finish up, a Garden Claw to cultivate, loosen, and aerate, but mostly because it is such a cool, fun tool to use.  (It is an upright, three-foot tall, T-shaped, blue device with top handle which you twist back-and forth to manipulate the four-talon claw at the bottom.  The shoulder twisting was a good workout for my delts, and the turning motion actually seemed to loosen the muscles of my lower back, which by then were pretty sore and tight.)

Nicole’s implements were her snout and front, web-footed paws.

The garden was divided into three plots.  And I turned-over and raked each section three times.  I began my work on the west-most one with the graip while Nicole patrolled the grounds, nose down, inhaling the incipient aromas of the upcoming season.  Then she would lie down on the grass to watch me work.  Being a dog she of course did this with her eyes closed.

When my first pass was completed Nicole would rouse herself up and walk into the plot to burrow into the freshly turned earth with her dark, black snout – and sneeze. Often she would dig a small depression with her paws in order further investigate the ground’s contents. Then she would give me her signal for me to continue work by sauntering over and nestling her dirt-covered nose in my sweaty hand.  She usually repeated this ritual a couple more times before we were finished.

After the second or third iteration – about the time that my flannel shirt had just come off and the surface level of dirt had morphed from underground cold to sun enhanced tepid – Nicole would return to the garden, stake out a spot, and roll languorously in the lukewarm loam.  Then she returned to aroma patrol, and the important job of watching me with her eyes closed.  Sometimes when I would stop briefly to wipe my forehead or clean the perspiration from my glasses she would walk over and stand next to me.  After getting a quick pat on the head she returned to her post.

And when I was finished, and my tools were all put away, Nicole and I headed into the house for a well-earned cold gulp of water and a snack.

Today, over a quarter of a century later, this is what I remember at this time of the year.