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Digging in the dirt

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The end of the spring semester sucked like a swimming pool vacuum cleaner. It sucked like the whirlpool at the base of Niagara Falls. It sucked like quicksand. It was so bad that I never felt the end-of-the-semester, I'm-glad-that's-over sense of relief.

Instead, for the week after commencement, I moped around interested in nothing. Nothing. I tried writing a couple of blog posts but gave up in disgust. I was in a Charles Baudelaire Fleurs du mal "Au Lecteur" mood. As Warren Zevon once sang, "It ain't that pretty at all."

Saturday, though, I spent my first full day this spring in the garden. I decided to transplant all of my day lilies. Some of them were so big they needed to be divided. And after I had used the shovel as a lever to pry them out of the ground, they were too heavy to move because of all the soil clinging to the roots.

The soil here is not dirt the way most people know it. It is clay. When you dig a shovelful of it, it comes out of the ground in a heavy clump. The lily roots come out of the ground packed in 20 or so pounds of clay that needs to be chopped away from the root ball so the plant can be moved. The root balls are about the size of beach balls. Even with the loose clay chopped away, the plants can weigh 30 pounds.

I moved seven plants in five hours. That's five hours with no break, no lunch—just digging, grunting, lifting, sweating, swearing and trying to stay hydrated. It's on-my-knees work one moment, stand-up-and-jam-the-shovel-into-the-ground work the next. It's lift the plant from the hole, lower the plant into a new hole—new hole is too small, lift the plant from the hole, dig some more, lower plant into hole again, all the while saying to myself, "Lift with your knees, not with your back."

It's a mix of dirt, mud, water, peat moss, topsoil and sand. The implements are shovel, spade, trowel, three-pronged garden claw and wheelbarrow, with occasional appearances of pry bars and an ax (for chopping through tree roots).

It's having a box of bandanas on hand because when they're rolled into sweatbands, they're good for 15 minutes, tops. It's having a box of hand towels available to mop the sweat from my bald head when I replace bandanas. It's five hours with nothing in the brain but snippets of songs and self-encouragement to move just one more plant, to finish the job in one work session instead of two. Being obsessive-compulsive, I sometimes find myself thinking about the same thing for hours, but I couldn't tell you anything that passed through my head Saturday. The work was so hard I pretty much shut down my brain.

By the time I had finished, mud was caked to my knees. My legs were powdered in dirt. I had streaks on my face from wiping sweat away with muddy gloves. I stank. I wore sweat like a second skin. When I rinsed the soap from my body in the shower, it ran down the drain a dirty brownish-gray. That runoff is when I know I've had a good day in the garden.

Thirty, thirty-five years ago, a colleague at the time suggested gardening was exercise. I scoffed. Really? Planting zinnia seeds is exercise? I remember rolling my eyes so hard that I almost sprained my corneas.

Sunday morning, I could barely get out of bed. It took the better part of the day before I could move with the flexibility of something other than peanut brittle.

My lilies grow in a flower bed that butts against the west end of my house. Late last week, I had transplanted some Asiatic lilies to the bed; they have one section, and the day lilies have the other. Tomorrow, I have to move one more day lily and fill the empty spot with Asiatics. I had intended to buy just six Asiatics, but when I got to the greenhouse, I saw the pots had three healthy plants in each of them. So I bought six pots. All of those plants are going into the ground tomorrow.

As I said at the start of this post, the end of the spring semester sucked. But by the time I washed dirt out from under my fingernails Saturday, the world was right again.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 21st, 2013 03:41 am (UTC)
Clay? Are you sure you're not here in Shasta County?

My daylillies need dividing and perhaps someday, if they behave themselves, they'll get it.
May. 22nd, 2013 02:22 am (UTC)
You dig in clay too? My sympathies. It's such poor quality that before I put it back into the ground, I chop it up with a spade and mix play sand and peat moss into it until it's something a new plant might feel at home in.

The thing with day lilies is that undivided, they're still pretty, so there's not much incentive to dig them up and cut them into pieces. I figured as long as I was moving them, I should take the chance to cut 'em in half.
May. 21st, 2013 03:50 am (UTC)
I'm glad our snippet of snow the weekend before went away so you could have that day -- and hopefully many others -- in the garden.
May. 22nd, 2013 02:23 am (UTC)
Thanks, Carole. I was out there again today and will be tomorrow.
May. 21st, 2013 04:35 am (UTC)
ursulav writes entertaining blog entries about her gardening efforts; IIRC she commented once that her yard is basically clay because builders raze the topsoil layer when building the houses and landscaping lawns and such, and she needed to buy ridiculous amounts of manure and soil and mulch to get the results she wanted...
May. 22nd, 2013 02:24 am (UTC)
I just checked one of her posts out real quick. She uses a *flamethrower* on weeds? Cool! I've gotta start doing that.
May. 21st, 2013 10:56 am (UTC)
May. 22nd, 2013 02:25 am (UTC)
Sho nuff.
May. 21st, 2013 12:37 pm (UTC)
You inspire with your soil therapy.
May. 22nd, 2013 02:25 am (UTC)
It's good for the mind, good for the soul, you don't need insurance, and there's no co-pay.
May. 26th, 2013 01:36 am (UTC)
Ain't that the truth! I can only chuckle when a non-gardener says something like, "So, are you done with your gardening work yet?"

Done? When you're a gardener, is it ever really done? Oh sure, there are moments of chorely repose, but it doesn't last long. There's always something to do.
May. 26th, 2013 02:39 am (UTC)
"Chorely repose." Great phrase.

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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