Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beautiful soil

I am awake very early this morning, though I would like to have slept in. I have heard this early time called "the gray dawn." The air through my kitchen window is cool and clean, and I hear birds chirping, fluting, whistling. This spring I have often felt that I would like to gather bird songs into bouquets like wildflowers on long stems.

My husband does not have to go to work today, and I have great expectations for getting things done in the garden--putting up trellises for my cucumbers and pole beans, laying in a long bed for sunflowers (I use a no till method that involves killing grass with a layer of cardboard and covering it with soil, old horse manure, dead leaves, and any other good stuff I can scrounge up.) There's no other way I'd rather spend  a day. I'm happily obsessed. I am like Uzziah, ancient king of Judah, who, the Bible says, "loved the soil."

I grew up in a gardening family. We never bought fruits or vegetables in the grocery store, but grew them and preserved them in the summer, to eat every day all year round. I didn't like garden work as a kid. I certainly didn't love soil. I hated our compost pile. But I did love things the garden grew. I marveled at the unexpectedly beautiful cabbage plants that opened like giant green roses. I was amazed by the incidental, throw-away beauty of starry potato blossoms.  I rejoiced in Sugar Baby watermelons with my brothers and sisters, eating slice after red slice till my stomach stretched tight. I gorged messily on really ripe peaches. The fuzz on their blushing golden skin was a slight irritant to my own skin, but the dryness and roughness accentuated their yielding, drippy sweetness. I thought of our Mackintosh apples as gifts from God. No human could devise such simultaneous crispness and juiciness or the sweet-tart, winey flavor. (I had never tasted wine, but I felt they must taste like wine.)

Now, with a garden of my (and children of my own to feed), I love all kinds of garden work and I love soil at least as much as what I can grow in it. I love its damp smell and the first moist then dusty feeling of it on my hands and under my feet. I love to push seeds into it, especially when it is fluffy, moist and dark like a good chocolate cake, and press it gently down on top of them. I passionately love manure (really) and the wholesome decay of compost. I love earthworms and their tunnels and the helpful bacteria and all the other underground creatures whose names I don't know. I love my new friend mycelium, the magical underground network of fungus that moves nutrients from plant to plant. We live in a beautiful, intricately designed world, and right now the underground commerce of a healthy soil seems as beautiful to me as the wheeling stars.
UPDATE: Writing this was hard. I had to think determinedly to find words, My experience of soil is more direct and wordless than most anything else in my life. This post has been about a week and half, maybe more, in the making. My husband's day off (in the first paragraph) was quite productive. We hauled in lots of manure, made some new beds and finished off some we had already started. The sunflowers are up now.

Here are a few pictures of my garden.

Baby beets and parsley.

 A jungle of snap peas and tomatoes.

Wee carrot plants. My first attempt at carrots this year didn't come up at all--old seed, I think. The second attempt was scratched away by our chickens. This is my third attempt. You can't see it here but it is protected from chickens and too much heat by an arch of  wire fence covered with white tulle. I've never been good at carrots and I'm determined to make it happen for real this year.

 I'm trying to stretch the season of my beloved arugula by shading it with a thrifted lace curtain.

Nasturtium leaves. I love how they often collect a bead of water right in their center.

Can't wait for tomatoes to get ripe. 

Trying to shade the lettuce a bit. Not sure if tulle will make a significant difference.

Cilantro and onions.

Pretty beet stems.

Cilantro, dill and flowering arugula in a lovely jumble.

I have given up on making art for the summer. I'll probably just be sharing garden pictures for awhile.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Morning has broken

I went outside with a camera this dewy morning, before my children were up. I kept thinking of the Eleanor Farjeon hymn, Morning has Broken, sung here by Cat Stevens in 1976, and here by boy soprano Aled Jones.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Nature's first green

In my ideal world, mild spring weather and the transition from winter bleakness to summer lushness would take no less than nine months. Gaunt branches would remain half bare, just softened by the airy lace of filmy yellow-green leaves, apple trees would cling to their frothy blossoms, gallant daffodils would keep fresh and yellow, and starry woodland blooms would bob above the dead oak leaves for months before being overtaken by the heat-loving undergrowth. As it is, every day or two or three there is a change which brings both beauty and loss. The particular beauty of the days before will not be seen again for a year. I grieve when warmer days green the trees with a rush and hurry the flowers to cast petals and make seed.

But while I regret every decorative change of spring's progress, I would draw my garden plants to maturity by force of will if I could. I've been spending hours in my garden every day, digging, mulching, weeding, seeding, amending soil with old horse manure and dreaming of snap peas and and arugula salad. There I am a practical farmer, a sensible hobbit instead of a regretful, backward looking elf. The contrast in these feelings interests me.

While in the regretful, backward looking mode, I think  about Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay," indulging in the pretty images and the neatness of the rhymes and rhythm. In the biggest scheme of things, I don't believe this poem is altogether true, but in the spring it fits my mood.

"Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."

This painting by English painter Duncan Grant, 1885-1978, is from the Tate Gallery.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Green grass

The grass will never be more beautiful than it is today. The trees are minimally dressed. The more voluptuous spring flowers wait for warmer days, and apart from the forsythia there are only prim, retiring blossoms in my landscape, to be appreciated in dainty ones and twos. 

But the grass is a single sweep of potent green, a trumpet blast of color. Blue sky and green grass create a simple, horizontal composition that surprises me with its forcefulness. During the winter I think of spring as light green leaves and a rainbow of flowers. I forget that first comes this fulfillment of green and blue.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A little break

I am sick and family members are sick--coughing, sneezing, wheezing, blowing, groaning, whining. It's nothing serious, but it diminishes productivity, so instead of thinking of this blog with regretful anxiety I've decided to institute an official two week hiatus, while I catch up on other stuff. 

I do plan to get some work done in my garden. It's the season of high hopes! 

The illustration is by Cicely Mary Barker. I tried but cannot track it to its online source, It's from her book Groundsel and Necklaces.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I really wanted to share something new of my own in this post, but a cold virus has been getting me down, and I haven't done a line of art for days. I'm sleepy all day long. My sluggish, unwilling brain keeps presenting me with negative statements about my creative abilities, but that might be its mean way of making me do nothing and rest.

Spring is almost here and it actually shows. It's a mild, white, densely-foggy day. The old snow is melting into the sodden tan grass, and the birds have broken their winter silence. We opened the windows for a little while today to get fresh air in the house, and now some of my kids are outside making cardboard-box forts on dry spots on the driveway.

In a few weeks, maybe, flowers will come out, and a green mist will brighten gray-brown branches. In the meantime, here are some spring flowers by English illustrator Edward Julius Detmold. They can be found on

Update: I wrote yesterday, but did not post. Things change so quickly with a bit of warmth. Today the grass is greening up, the fog is gone, and little children, mine and neighbors, are busy outside, rejoicing in light, color and soft air. I hear their tuneless singing and their chatter like chirping birds. I also hear rocks thudding into plastic buckets. I wonder what that's about.

And I feel so much better today that I sketched and will do so again.