When I got home from work on Wednesday last week I was eager to join Dean in the garden. Everything is planted now, but for a garden to thrive it needs some encouragement. Some people might not like the ongoing maintenance of gardening, but the fussing is the part I enjoy most. It’s a lot like the process of revising a piece of writing. With each visit there’s something to tweak, something new to see, some fresh insight as to what might be needed to make it better. Always there is something to learn.
Fussing over the garden is always different. It might involve checking on newly planted beds to see what’s sprouted or poking around in the soil to see if it’s dry. It might lead to picking dandelion greens and horsetail to add to the mulch mix. Sometimes it’s watering. Sometimes it’s weeding. On Wednesday evening my garden check led to plucking the tiniest of tiny slugs from my carrot and parsnip bed and plopping them into a jar of vinegar that I’ve always got nearby. I was completely consumed by the task of saving my seedlings from the destructive gastropods when I stepped on a nail. It took a few seconds for my brain to get the message of what had happened, and then another few for me to remove it from my foot.
We shouldn’t have used that old piece of wood with a nail still embedded in it to hold down the row cover that we’d draped over our sprouting beets, but we did. I shouldn’t have worn flip flops in the part of our yard where such pieces of wood are being used, but I did. I should have been more careful in how I placed the board when I moved it, but I was focused on eliminating the slugs. What a shock it was to feel my foot being impaled by a nail. What a way to be brought back from the reverie of my single-mindedness.
My first stop on Thursday morning was the Homer Medical Clinic for a tetanus shot since I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had one. After an hour and a half I left with instructions for how to care for my wound and the reassurance that I wouldn’t succumb to lockjaw. Then I hobbled around for a couple of days in a fair amount of pain, feeling perturbed all the while over my carelessness.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy putting my feet up from time to time, but I don’t like it when I’m forced to do so. Still I took the opportunity to start reading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. In the introduction he writes, “In Buddhism, it’s said that a teaching is like ‘a finger pointing at the moon.’ The moon (enlightenment) is the essential thing and the pointing finger is trying to direct us to it, but it’s important not to confuse finger with moon.”
The nail in the foot brought all of my garden ambitions to a halt for a few days and even though the setback was temporary it gave me cause to consider losing my ability to do the things I love to do. What if one or both of us could no longer keep up with the demands of this lifestyle that we’ve chosen? Would we be adaptable? Would we lose heart? When I read that passage by George Saunders I was reminded that everything we do and learn and try to achieve in this life is just pointing us toward the essential thing.
Already by Saturday the pain in my foot had subsided and I was able to resume making my garden rounds. My first task of the day was to collect dandelion flowers for pancakes and more syrup. My second task was to scour the upper garden for any more boards that might be lying around with nails sticking out of them.
On Sunday I picked strawberry leaves under a pink haze of smoke from tundra fires burning in Southwest Alaska. The tinted sky changed the lighting of everything and somehow it seemed like the colors became more of themselves, the purples more purple and the greens more green. Under these conditions I checked to see if the roses in the meadow below the house were blooming yet. I gathered a pile of last year’s alder leaves from under the trees to use for mulch. I gave the apple trees and the thirstiest of our garden beds a good soak. I reseeded some peas and carrots and beans and hoped for better germination the second time around. More than once I stopped to peek under the straw that’s covering the new garden bed I made a couple of weeks ago out of layers of manure, dried grasses, cardboard, weeds that hadn’t yet gone to seed, dirt, and compost. Already it had come alive with spiders and insects and microbes. Earthworms had moved in and started the work of churning and mixing it all together, and of course there were a few slugs.
Seeing the slugs reminded me of the arch of my foot, which was feeling pretty good considering it had just been four days since I’d punctured it by stepping on that damn nail. I’d taken care of it the way I’d been instructed and I soaked it a few times in hot water infused with yarrow and now I was out in the garden again, fussing over seedlings and pulling a few weeds and checking on the progress of various plants.
Nobody would look at our garden and think that we’re people who have it all figured out, but I go to it each day like I’m its student and it’s my teacher. I do what I can to usher it toward productivity and in return it offers me beauty and delicious, nutritious food. When I pay attention it provides me with the opportunity to witness a million small miracles. It points me in the direction of what’s essential.