Gardening

Intelligent Gardeners Wear Gloves

It's one of my favorite kinds of mornings:  pouring rain, windy, dark, chilly.

I very nearly went back to bed just now (Julia woke up a little while ago and I just put her back in her crib), but figured I should do some typing now, if I'm going to stay current with the whole sunken boat thing.

Let's see….

The last time I said anything about this was Wednesday morning…that afternoon all I really did was mark out an area for the garden with little scrap pieces of wood and then mark the outline with the edger.  The edger, if you don't have one, is this half-circle shaped piece of metal on the end of a broom handle.  The round edge faces down, and is sharp, like a knife blade.  The flat side of the half circle is bent over about half an inch on either side of where it attaches to the broom handle – so you can put your foot on it to push it into the soil.  Did I make a decent picture for you?  Hope so.  The edger is a major player at this point.

Anyway, I marked the garden out in kind of a blobby circle/oval/cartoon character conversation bubble shape and called Bill over to take a look.  Alex was home too – Bill took him to the zoo that morning.  There are now THREE giraffes!  Very exciting.  Anyway, Bill came over and I showed him where I wanted the boat to go within the blob shape, and he just looked at the whole thing and said "It's big."

Yep.  It is.  It's a good deal bigger than I'd originally planned.  I blame the gas company.  They came out and marked where the gas line is, and it pretty much runs right through where I wanted to sink the boat.  So I had to move the boat back so that I don't hit the gas line when I dig the hole for the boat…and so of course the garden just wouldn't have looked right way back in that corner of the yard.  (I say "way back" like there's an acre of property in the front, but no…it's not all that big at all.)  So I enlarged it.  It will take up most of that part of the front yard.  I left paths about three feet wide so the lawnmower can go through between this garden and the others.  But that's about it.

So anyway.  After he looked at it and said "It's big" – which was loaded with way more than just FACT.  There was a heap of skepticism and doubt and disbelief, I believe, mixed into those two words.  But – to his credit – he did not follow his statement up with "what are you, nuts?"  He just nodded and smiled (a grimace of fear) and went back to what he was doing.

I got the edger.  Now, operating the edger, in theory, is like using a shovel.  You position the edge where you want it to go in, and then place one foot on the top of the blade, and push.  That doesn't work on a lawn where all the grass and crabgrass and bits of moss have tangled their root systems in with the tree roots that run along there.  So either I'm just totally without the proper leg strength, or the lawn was reinforced really well.  It didn't want me there.  But.  I am stubborn.  Or determined.  Or both.  So MY method was to position the edger, with the handle perpendicular to the lawn, and then JUMP onto the thing with both feet and MAKE the blade cut through the matted grass and root systems.  So there.  It was like jumping on a defective pogo stick.  There was no bounce.  Sometimes, though, there was a really tough section of lawn or a thicker tree root that I couldn't cut through and there was not even a downward motion to cushion my jump.  I'd be there, perched on my edger, struggling not to fall over.  Remember the Tin Man doing his dance after singing "If I only Had a Heart" and at one point he just stood there and looked like he was going to fall this way or that way, and Dorothy and the Scarecrow run over and try to stop him from falling?  I kind of looked like that.  The Tin Man.  On a defective pogo stick.

Well anyway.  Like I said, Alex was home, and he wanted to help.  Bill wasn't doing anything Alex was interested in, but I had made an outline in the front yard and Alex, for a time, decided he wanted all the pieces of wood I'd used.  So as I'm jumping onto the edger – did I tell you it's not a BIG thing – maybe 8 inches or so?  So I did a lot of jumping.  Alex would meander around and take a piece of the wood – or start to – and I'd yell "NONONONONONONONO!  Here Alex, you can have THIS one."  (One I'd just passed.)   

After a while he got tired of gathering sticks and wanted to get my attention by working his way closer and closer to the street.  That worked, of course.  We took a break.  Went inside.  Juice for him, big thing of water for me.  It was hot here on Wednesday.  In the eighties.  I went back to my nogo stick (heh heh heh, get it?) and Alex stayed on the front steps, drinking my water because it was in a cool water bottle instead of his run-of-the-mill sippy cup.

So I finally finished my outline.  And it was getting late, we were going to need to get Julia at daycare and make dinner and all that…(actually, dinner was probably in the works by then – ribs on the grill) But I really really really wanted to start ripping up the lawn within my blob outline.

Now.  We have a rototiller.  I may have mentioned it in the other post.  It rips up the lawn.  Tills it, with round blades that go around and around.  Saves time.  Very efficient.

I chose not to use it.  Partly because I didn't want to use it near the gas line.  I think they run around 18 inches deep, but still.  Better safe than exploding.

So it was more fun with the edger.  Here's the orderly, methodical side of me helping out the creative "I'm going to paint on a BIG canvas" side of me.  I laid out a grid of sorts, with the edger.  In workable sections at a time.  First made several parallel lines this way…then perpendicular to them that way…so I had little rough squares of sod to deal with.  And then I knelt down and peeled (ripped, tore, yanked, pulled, wrestled) the grass up.  Got a section done and loaded onto the wheelbarrow and wheeled it around to the back to what became, eventually, a really big pile of dirt and grass.  Why didn't I shake all the attached dirt back into the garden-to-be, you might ask?  Because Bill had put down some kind of fertilizer that is supposed to kill seedlings (presumably the weed and crabgrass kind, but who knows…our front lawn has never looked lush…hmmm…) and I didn't want the poison going into my new flower bed and killing all my babies.

So – big pile of dirt and grass.

I did one little section Wednesday night, just to get the project started.

And oh, what a project it was.  But I went to bed happy on Wednesday night.  Dirt ground into my fingers that refused to be scrubbed out…but the joy of a project begun in my heart.

Thursday, we took the kids to daycare and came home, had some breakfast, and I got started.  It was a much cooler day – I started out with a tee shirt, sweatshirt and coat, but quickly lost the two outer layers after a bunch of jumping on the edger.

Did I mention the garden outline was big?  I think I did.  But just in case I didn't – it's big.  With the exception of a quick trip with Bill to Home Depot and a break for lunch and a break to go get the kids from daycare…plus a few trips inside to blow my runny nose or to pee, I spent ALL DAY hopping onto the edger over and over and over and over and over and then kneeling or sitting on the ground ripping up the lawn, section by stubborn section.

The best part – which happened early on – was that I found an arrowhead.  Really.  At first I thought it was just a little rock, then I thought it was a thin chip of slate – but no – it's an arrowhead. 

Bill is SO jealous.  Really.  I showed it to him and he was immediately ten years old.  And it was not fair, apparently, that I found it, when he's done SO much digging in our yard prior to the start of my project, and also because he's ALWAYS wanted to find one.  ALWAYS.  So it's not fair.  But too bad.  I found it, and it's mine.  So there.  Plus, if he had dug up the yard two years ago when I FIRST came up with this idea, he'd have found it.  So tough.

But apart from that little archaeological thrill (and trust me, lots of little Indiana Jones analogies ran through my head while I was edging and ripping that day…little scenes I was going to use to describe his imagined attempts to get the arrowhead from me…but I didn't type that night and I don't feel like going off on that tangent now.  You've probably seen the movies – you can imagine it.)

The other thing that kept going through my mind while I was edging and ripping was the phrase about biting off more than you can chew.  And that, while I intend to finish this, and so it is not MORE than I can chew…it's certainly going to take an awful LOT of chewing before I'm done.

I came pretty close to finishing.  Just one section left, but I was slowing down by then and it was getting dark.  And I was sore.  Very sore.  I don't normally jump onto an edger seventy-five billion times in a day, so lots of muscles in unexpected places began to protest and then to picket and to riot and pretty soon I just had to stop.  I was sore.  I know I said that already.  But I really need to emphasize it.  S-O-R-E.  Sore.  Head to toe.  And to finger.  I had about a pound of dirt ground into my hands and embedded deep beneath my fingernails.  So I stopped.  The last section had been edged into long strips of grass.  Didn't have the will to finish the grid at that point.  So I put the edger and the wheelbarrow away and went inside. 

Later that night I soaked in a hot bubble bath, which felt great at the time but didn't do anything to prevent me from moving slowly and jerkily, kind of like a marionette.

The next day at work I found that when I sat for long periods of time, like a minute or so, everything stiffened up and I had to really focus on not looking like an idiot when I walked.  I forced myself to ignore the protests from those normally silent little muscles and WALK like a regular person WALKS.  It was a long day.

I finished the ripping of the lawn last night.  It rained on and off all day.  I wore my yellow raingear – the stuff I bought to wear on fishing trips.  (I'm wearing it in that picture in the upper right corner of this blog, in fact.) I looked like the Gorton's fisherman's insane sister out there, kneeling, sitting, sprawling on the wet ground, clawing at the grass while rain dripped on me from the tree branches above or poured on me as a passing shower went by.

I amused myself by imagining what people must be thinking as they drove by.  Words like "lunatic" and "whacko" frequented these thoughts.  But I persevered.  And this last section – actually the last part of this last section – was the WORST.  I was close to the tree at this point, so the roots were bigger and closer to the surface and therefore woven tightly into the root systems of the grasses.  The lawn did not want to let go. 

(Oh, and by the way, this tree I'm talking about – it's barely that any more.  So many branches have either fallen off or have been trimmed away that it really doesn't do a whole lot of tree-like things any more.  It isn't going to throw a whole ton of shade on my garden, for example, because there aren't a whole lot of branches that will bear leaves.  It's main function is to wear the big yellow ribbon that I put up when Joe went to Iraq.  And that's enough.)

So anyway…the very last of it…this section roughly two feet by four feet…this was my battle.  This was my hell.  This was what had me practically prostrate on the ground as I tried to wrestle the last of the sod away from the dirt and tree roots.  Inch by muddy inch.  My face in a grimace at times…and me muttering TO the roots or grunting or swearing.  My hands were nearly black with mud.  My face was streaked with dirt – my war paint. 

And then it was down to a section roughly a foot square.  At that point I was just grabbing tufts of grass, handfuls of dirt/mud, picking out the grubs (there were a TON of grubs in all this.  Lots of earthworms too – I kept them but put the grubs on the wheelbarrow of death.)

And finally – a little chunk was left – two handfuls in size, torn out of there one blade of grass at a time, it seemed.  The whole experience was nothing like giving birth, but it's the only analogy I can come up with.  Both started out relatively easy – yeah, I can DO this!  And by the end I was ugly and insane and I just wanted (grunt) to (grunt) get (swearwordswearwordswearword) this (expletive) OUT!.  (Actually, I didn't swear during either birth.  But really – there is another plane of existence you go to toward the end of labor and it's just a dark, raw place.  And no, I didn't have an epidural either time, why do you ask?)

And that's probably why the analogy came to me – I didn't want to be pain free during birth – and I wasn't, trust me…better yet, ask Bill – he witnessed it all.  And I didn't want to use the rototiller to rip up my garden spot.  This is what I'm like, apparently.  I wanted to FEEL childbirth, and I wanted to really WORK this garden with my own hands.  And also – I believed that I could do it.  (With Julia, though, I had a harder time – and I actually asked for a spinal, but by the time the guy got there to put the needle in, I was 9 centimeters and figured there was no point.  But I did come close.  A pitocin drip makes for a very different kind of labor.)

Back to the garden.  Anyway – I finished.  Threw the last handful of grass and mud onto the wheelbarrow and said "So there!" out loud.  I stood there for a moment, looking at what I had accomplished, and I felt very good about it.  I wheeled the last of the sod to the BIG pile in the back (I will take a picture of that pile today, because it's BIG.) and put the wheelbarrow back in the garage and went inside.

I peeled off the muddy jacket and pants of my bright yellow raingear ensemble, and took off my muddy sneakers and socks, and washed about ten pounds of dirt off my hands.  There's still a pound left under my fingernails that I couldn't get out.  And that brings me to the title of this post.  I didn't wear gloves.  Why?  I don't know.  Another weird quirk of my personality.  And one I plan to change, because during my barehanded digging and clawing frenzy, I have caused myself some lasting pain in the middle finger of my left hand and ESPECIALLY the index finger of my right hand.  (All this typing hasn't helped, either, but it had to be done.)  It looks like the dirt went WAY in and kind of (if you're squeamish about stuff like this, stop reading now.  They all lived happily ever after.  The end.) ripped the nail away from the flesh underneath, and I'm really not sure if some of the darkness under there is blood or just dirt or both.  It hurts like hell.  I soaked in the tub again but that didn't get any more dirt out, even scrubbing at it (and screaming silently because it HURT) with a nail brush didn't do much.  So I smushed in some neosporin to hopefully prevent it from getting infected, and today I'll maybe soak it in salt water because for some reason that seems like something that might help.  Like gargling with salt water when you have a sore throat.  Who knows.  It will probably sting a LOT.  I won't like that.

But that's the price you pay for the satisfaction of having done the job yourself.  No, not really.  That's the price you pay for being stupid.  So I'll wear gloves from now on.

And that's where things are at this moment.  I'll take a few more pictures this morning – of the completed blob and of the pile of dirt and grass.  Have to finish the roll of film before I can post anything but I will put up pictures periodically.  Maybe I should take a picture of my fingernail for you too…

Depending on what the weather is supposed to do, I might get a mess of top soil and work that in…then peat moss and manure…we'll see.

In the meantime – learn from my mistakes:  When clawing at the earth, wear gloves.

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