Saturday, 8 April 2017

Feet in the Earth, Head in the Sky

Still Creek Community Garden 2015

I lurched home, dress drenched and sticking to my calves, groceries bundled protectively in my arms, garden paraphenalia and leftover seeds stored soaking in my pack. Stripping at the door, I emptied my pack on the floor, left the food where I dropped it, pegged the pack up on my Get Kist Here! corner-grocery door-push, hung my coat and hat to dry, and climbed into the shower to rub down my chilled torso and my beet pink legs. When I could bear the torment of my attentions no more (that skin is sensitive when parboiled by rain and friction), I rubbed down, put on two long dresses, thick-knit wrist warmers, a shawl, a cable knit sweater, and a pair of thermal socks. I couldn’t stick my socked feet into my wooly slippers, or I would have done that, too. Two prophylactic vitamin C tablets later, I put on the stove the last of my homemade black bean and barley soup (featuring hunks of my winter parsnip, still delicious and hearty despite their months under snow), and started peeling open seed packets to dry—soaked through, most of them, despite being kept in a ziploc bag and under an umbrella at the community garden through the four hours I worked there today, because the hands that kept going into them were undryable.

That done, I planted the accidentally remaining scarlet runner beans (two) in one of my balcony pots, threw my dress in a soapy sinkful of water to soak, washed my garden tools, set my muddy gardening gloves and sleeve protectors aside for later attention (triage!), cleaned the mud off my boots and left them to dry for later application of mink oil. Peeled apart the leaves of my notebook so they wouldn’t dry glued together, redid my sketch of the new plantings on a fresh piece of paper, divided my groceries into that-which-is-coming-with-me-to-Bowen-Island-tomorrow and that-which-stays-in-Vancouver-to-get-the-homefires-burning-when-I-return, boxed, bagged and put away, and at last sat down with my bowl of hot, wonderful soup.

I have not had so much fun in a coon’s age.

My limbs are trembling. I keep mistyping because my fingers are ungovernable. My back swears vengeance. My skin threatens to peel off, dessicated from the continuous rain and being plunged repeatedly into the earth. (There’s only so much you can do with your hands protected. Sooner or later, if you will pardon the expression, the gloves have got to come off.)

What did I do today to cause such heartiness in the face of apparent discomfort?

I tended my gardens. I tended our garden. I met new community garden members and talked with old, learning more about them and loving them all.

This morning I finally got the home garden sprinkled with organic fertilizer before dashing with Mary to StillCreek Community Garden for our first work party of the year. I got about an hour’s work in my own beds done before the “party” started: string strung to demarcate sections, seeds swapped with Mary, lupines inspected (I fear losses), potatos and garlic babies planted, and I forget what-all-else before my maintenance crew-boss Lucia arrived and we got chatting, then Clélie, bless her, and a big hug and introductions to new folk (whose names I won’t venture at the moment), and then the gathering up of fallen cottonwood limbs, the weeding of communal beds, (the chatting, the chatting), the back groaning, the back groaning, whispered love-words to horsetail and buttercup and dandelions as I dug them up, apologies to cursing earthworms, to sadly hacked back blackberries (though I defended them, I did, against complete removal: the birds need them more than we don’t), and hot Tim’s coffee and Timbits (ahhh...), till at last I declared myself done with the work party and returned to my beds.

Then it was figuring, plotting, planting, covering, and praying. Have you ever tried to plant a garden when you are dripping wet and the deluge continues all around you? I thanked India for those nice big nasturtium seeds (heirloom Indian, apparently), and mourned the frail tiny mixed lettuces, who glued to my hands in the sprinkling and were, like the rest, unceremoniously brushed off of me and onto the earth, roughly and lightly covered over with numb fingertips, watched by crossing eyes that were barely able to make them out through my bifocals, and left to fend for themselves with only a single defunct Adobe Acrobat CD turning wistfully from a string over the kale, the leeks, the spinach, and the chard.

Those words! Delicious. My tongue tastes them as I speak; my teeth feel their texture and their crunch.

I went nuts this year, perhaps with increasing confidence, as I manage to harvest something every Gardener’s Question Time while unable to do more but watch my hardy kale die mouldering in the snow and my hardier Gladiator parsnips unmoveable in the frozen ground. (Next year, my pretties, there will be burlap around you, or at least a little cardboard, so I can wiggle out a root or two in the Dark Times.)
Katherine Laflamme, 2017.
Still Creek Community Garden Facebook page
season, perhaps with increasing recklessness as I recall the many unviable or at least violated plants that never made the light, perhaps with the sap-lust of many months listening to

Back to the words:

Have you ever heard such beautiful words in your life?

I know, then I forget, then I remember again, that I am never happier than when I am tending a wee plant or animal, or indeed a massive plant or animal. I don’t care what kind. There is no weed, no pest to me, although I do sometimes have to negotiate, if you get my drift, and urge other pastures on my associates. But I truly love them all, and when I am able to spend time with them, joy runs through me like sap through leaves.

A few years ago my neighbour Darnelle urged me to join a community garden, which she had done and which was bringing her such happiness. I thought I didn’t feel like doing that. Too much work, too many rules, and besides, I don’t know a thing about gardening. Then Darnelle died and I kept looking at her neglected plot and I kept thinking, I wonder.

The next year I faced cancer. I spent a while dealing with that and where it was not a mortal blow, gras a Dye, it scared the pants off me. After a few months of dealing with that I had the thought that I would like to grow something more life-giving than cancer cells, so I asked for and miraculously got a place in a community garden. I was very cautious at first, shy of the people and shy in my planting, because I knew so little, and worried so much.

Is it five years later now? Something like that. And that plot, now two plots, has sustained me in many more ways than gustatorially in that time, growing in importance every year, roots growing out from it, through me, into the community that welcomed me, so that the food I get from it is not only for my body, but for my soul, not only for me as an individual, but as part of a world.

One of the first things I planted was a purple tulip given me by my friend Kathy, who died of her own cancer three years ago. I see today their leaves strong and their buds on the verge of opening. (That one tulip is now two.) And they link me back to her and all we went through, all she went through, all the people who helped, who tended our garden of the heart along the way.

Parsnips, tulips. Marigolds, “weeds”. The earthworms I had to dig up from other places and slowly introduce. The rain. The cottonwoods. The peace.

It really is a community garden. And I am so grateful I have a place in it.


Images:  Casey Wolf and Katherine Laflamme


Pat said...

Dear Casey...I so enjoyed reading this, I felt as though I was there with you. Loved the photos ....Love and Hugs from me to you Cousin

Casey Wolf said...

Thank you, dear cousin. Next time you can hold up my skirt so it doesn't drag in the wet grasses. : )