The Whispering Soil

rake of the gardenThe drought in California is easing–somewhat–and last month the vegetable garden began to whisper promises into the air.

Storm after storm blanketed our valley this winter, filling the reservoirs and halving watering restrictions. All during those rainy months, I paused during my sweeping endeavors by the back glass doors, taking a moment–or two–to admire how the garden soil slowly turned from a caramel color to that of dark chocolate.

The heavy rains have been away for a long, long while. Gray with remorse the sky wept great, warm drops onto the dry land below… as if it were seeing a long, lost love. Witnessing such natural emotion made similarly restorative feelings rise within me as thoroughly as water percolated through the dry clumps without.

Such moments as these are not merely for respite, however.

Be not fooled by a gardener’s seemingly vacant stare while standing still, nor the contented sigh that escapes here and there. During said pauses, a gardener maps and re-maps the beds and paths, silently mumbling the pros and cons of each arrangement as she bends down and sweeps an accumulated pile into a dust-pan, never really taking her eyes off the empty beds. As the rain pelts down, the gardener touches the cold panes of glass with hopeful fingertips, squinting up into the opaque sky, envisioning the path she knows the sun will take once planting begins.

Will the broccoli thrive more in the mostly shaded bed over there? Will the cinder block wall overheat the peas? Will pole beans deign to go up the spokes of a metal conduit teepee, or do the cylindrical surfaces need to be wrapped?

Each unspoken question is answered by the whispering soil, patiently threading enticing answers in among chilly gusts, punctuated by the rain.

Soon, the urge to sketch is simply too great. I imagine that the more sage gardeners will put on a teapot and sit down at a delicate desk with gardening stationary, tapping a pearl-handled pen on their lower lip as they smile at their pre-filled planting calendar. In rather stark contrast to this idyllic planning I usually end up scribbling my initial plans on scrap paper or spam-mail envelopes on my kitchen counter–while stirring a pot of soup or spaghetti sauce with my free hand–trying to tether the soil’s rather ethereal suggestions into a more tangible form.

Unlike the more capricious promises of politics, the whispering soil suggests things readily attainable… real food to pick, prepare and enjoy with a fair bit of effort, water and sunshine.

*  *  *

L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books

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