I’ve been weeding in the afternoon sun, my back aches in that typical dull way from bending, pulling against the long dandelion roots which snake deep into the damp soil.
The broken plants smell green, peppery, a sharp song of sap and sweat, staining my arms with the spilt milk of their stems.
My eyes itch, my skin is blotched with persistent nettle rash, flying ants crawl over my boots.
I am happier than I have been for the longest time.
I get to thinking, as I weed around the broad beans, the tender lettuces, the spinach plants, that this is thankless work. In the sense that the plants will not thank me, let alone pay me for clearing their patch, removing the snails, carefully mulching the soil with compost. And as this is our family vegetable garden, this labour is out of love, not for financial reward.
But the reward is right there. There in the deep rich soil, the compost from years and years of peelings, tea-leaves, the Sunday load of coffee grounds. There with the tiny seedlings we watched perform the miraculous-everyday process of germination.
How strange it is that we are so caught up in a world of transaction. We have been conditioned into thinking the world relies on bounded instances of give and take. And yet, we know and experience continually that is not the case.
That joyful feeling of freely giving with no expectation, the wonder of experiencing the world around us, which asks for nothing in return, the near unbelievable mystery that we are alive in the first place.
In the city I found I lost this feeling so easily, and that we were all chasing it, often in the wrong way, as it cannot be purchased, it cannot be bounded by transaction. It asks for nothing, and in a sense, everything.
I get the sense, as the year goes on, of being mindful of doing something for it’s own sake.
The rabbits get in and eat all the spinach and lettuce seedlings. Some sort of blight rots the broad beans. Weeds continually crowd the fresh ground. Everything else wants to eat what I have planted. For so much of the work there is no return. And yet somehow in spite of that, or maybe because of that, there is something deeper than return.
The garden calls me back again and again, not asking for love and attention (nature reclaims its own, simply, thoroughly, it is only we who judge this as neglect) and I return because just being part of the process is so joyful.
I do it for its own sake. For my sake.
I see the seasons through the soil. The asparagus pushes upwards suggestively and determinedly in April. Potato plants leap up from their deep trenches in May. Then rogue squash plants, strawberry plants, mint and parsley that dance far beyond my twine-aligned rows. Robins and the chickens follow me for worms. I spy my first two swallows as we pick endless rocks from the soil, surely two herald a summer, time to plant out the brave little seedlings.
Now in profusion, golden potatoes, squashes, courgettes, raspberries, onions, mint, sweetpeas that stubbornly refused to climb their canes. So many things we did not plant, that just grew, like a giggle, shooting up unexpectedly through the soil. So many things whose destiny was not to end on our plates, but rather go back to the soil, or feed the rabbits, bugs, birds.
This was not a labour with a measurable ROI, but rather an immeasurable one. The intense physical joy of picking and eating things with the full consciousness of having seen them grow is made more extraordinary in it’s ordinariness.
Nothing in the garden has grown for because it was contracted to. It has simply followed the beautiful order it is part of. Spiraling endlessly towards the sun, pushing, flowering, fruiting with such perfect elegance it is breath taking.
Nothing here is convenient, time efficient, predictable. And maybe that’s why it tastes so good. And feels so very precious.
In a world of metrics and measurement, deadlines and deliverables there is an irreducible part of myself, a wordless story, an inner song, which craves this perfect, clambering, beautiful chaos of our unbounded world.
And questions: why we have distanced ourselves so thoroughly from it?
Maybe this is not the time for answers, maybe this is time to kick off our shoes and go out and get our feet in the soil.