April 8, 2015

Tabula Rasa

What on earth have I gotten myself into?

Back at our old home, the snow is quickly melting off the lawn and gardens, revealing grass that awaits only a light raking to spring to new life.  Daffodils, warmed by the house’s foundation, are heading up for a mid-April bloom.  The buds, too, are swelling on hundreds of mature flowering trees and shrubs.

The house is finished, but now it
needs a garden....
This morning, I gazed out the window of our new home where, also, the snow is receding.  But what is revealed is… mud.  Nothing but mud.  Gray mud that last fall was compressed into the consistency of concrete by trucks, trailers and cranes parked for weeks at a time.

This is the site of our new garden. 

 Let us backtrack a few months.  Last year we found the ideal location for the home we plan to reside in until we are carried out, feet first.  It was a wonderful site but sitting on it was a dilapidated house.  Around that house was a forest of aging pines, a thicket of invasive barberry and burning bush, plus a lush garden of poisonous black swallowwort.

We had the house torn down and a wide area of trees and undergrowth removed.  Betty began planning a low-maintenance garden.  Then winter set in and our gardening plans were played in abeyance.

Now, we are ready to begin turning that tabula rasa into a garden, or at least begin gardening when the ground thaws.

To turn that concrete-like dirt into gardening soil we have a rototiller.  AARP just sent it a membership application.  We purchased our Troy-Bilt EconoHorse in 1980 and used it happily for ten years.  Then we moved and then moved again, taking along our rototiller because it had served us so well and we expected that one day we would use it again.  The last time either one of us can definitively remember using it was during the Clinton administration.

Our circa 1980 rototiller
Two weeks ago we hauled our rototiller to the place that has kept our snow blower running for a decade and asked whether the EconoHorse could be saved or should it be put down.  A group of employees gathered around it and gazed, awestruck that such a machine could still exist and not have been reduced to rust.  A technician gave a tentative pull on the engine and said there was hope. 

Three days ago our aging rototiller came home, renewed with a host of sparkling new belts, hoses, and other parts, and ready to do its best.

But while the machine is the same, the man behind that TroyBilt is not the same guy who, in 1980, created a 50 by 200 foot garden in a single weekend of sweaty, muscular grit and determination.  That was more than half a lifetime ago.  He is 35 years older and those muscles, while they have exactly atrophied, aren’t what they were once upon a time.

And, tilling that dirt is just the first step toward turning it into soil.  There needs to be truckloads of compost worked into it plus whatever else a soil test tells us it needs.  Then, there are dozens of shrubs to plant, grasses and perennials to place, and paths to create.

Like I wrote at the beginning of this essay, what have I gotten myself into?

We do these things out of love.  We also do these things because we want to prove to ourselves that we still possess the stamina to carry out a major project that is long on physical effort.  Mostly, we do these things because we want to be able to say that we had a hand in creating something beautiful.  But, all the same, get ready to pass the Advil.

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