It was high time to have the garden all spaded up for spring.
My leisurely but persistent practice is to start nibbling on the job starting in January, just chopping and turning for 20 minutes a day. One essential element was the use of Captain Wing’s very nice pointed spade, a small light ergonomically handy garden tool. One day I borrowed it for a bit, did some work, then shined it up and set it back in its place on his porch. So far so good.
But for the long term, Captain had a plan to spare me further labor by spading the whole strip himself for me in one efficient upcoming fell swoop, just as soon as he had a little minute to spare.
Well, it didn’t seem fair to trouble him or any of his little minutes, nor to keep borrowing his elegant spade. So on Friday under cover of darkness and in stealthlike manner I passed by the lighted kitchen windows where the Wings were innocently eating their dinner, walked around the block, and dropped in on Neighbor Aziz.
“I’d really appreciate the loan of a shovel,” I explained to him. “And would appreciate more if you didn’t tell Captain.”
“He’d probably do it for you,” pointed out sensible Aziz, waving me to a chair and plying me with refreshments. “I am sure he will be happy if you just ask.”
“Yes, that’s the point. I’d like it done this weekend, but don’t want to trouble him or hurt his feelings. This way I can just sort of turf around a bit. He doesn’t even have to notice that the job is done.” Then the humor of the situation occurred to us both. “Our neighborhood is like a sitcom, isn’t it? Like ‘I Love Lucy,’ but ‘Everybody Loves Wing.'”
Then I headed home the long way, around the block, with shovel on my shoulder.
“Did you lose Snow White?” asked one of our smoking bench neighbors. I explained the whole shenanigan, securing their promise of secrecy and their high amusement. Upstairs, I parked the shovel in the bathroom and set an alarm for 6:00 a.m.
By 6:15 next morning I was standing on the raised bed, getting a feel for the shovel and realizing just how much potential racket a spading job can create. It was important to work quietly so as not to disturb the windows of sleepers all along the strip. This meant leaning carefully on the shovel instead of hopping on it, and shaking dirt off the blade instead of whacking it on the ground, and moving stones by stacking them on the wall instead of just casting them off to the stone drainage area nearby. As a computer potato unaccustomed to real work, I had to stop with every half-shovelful and squat and stretch out the spine first before carefully easing the clump of soil over and off. Then every few spadefuls it seemed wise to very gently float to an upright stretch, take deep breaths, and admire the early morning. There were gulls high overhead chuckling along, crows rivering past, and in the Scotch pines just overhead a tag team of chickadees and dark-eyed juncoes and squirrels. The building Golden Retriever appeared across the yard. At sight of me, he snapped to attention with ears up and jaw dropping in amazement. (Is that Mary up on that raised bed? How do I get there? Can I sniff her? Can I get her to pet me?) He had to figure out his way around the garden wall before bounding over and leaping half up on the raised bed with wiggles of ecstasy.
It was arduous, but a lovely way to greet the morning. That very easeful slow approach, visualizing the energy of the earth peacefully digging itself, yielded an unexpected safety advantage. The shovel kept bottoming out on something hard. Each time it did, I backed up a few inches and tried tapping at it, clearing the clods on either side, but to no avail. It turned out to be a tough orange Scotch Pine root as thick as my wrist, running parallel all along the bed six inches under. A vigorous attack might have broken the shovel, or jammed my boot underneath and sent me falling off the strip. With an attitude of peaceful coexistence I could just let the root be.
At 8:15, the first pass was done. I crouched down and gripped the wall, lowering one foot firmly to solid ground, then the other. Wiping my hands on some pine needles I put the shovel in my bucket to keep it from shedding dirt on the way upstairs. I carried the shovel and bucket to the front door, took off the boots, put them in the bucket, and carried it all upstairs in sock feet being very careful to keep the shovel handle level on the stairwell so it wouldn’t bash the light bulbs. The shovel and boots went in the bathroom to dry. Then I lay down, aligning my back flat against the floor under warm blankets, doing gentle posture stretches, and took a deep nap.
After chores and lunch I got back on the raised bed again. The second pass was more tricky. It meant standing precariously on top of unstable clods a foot or two above the raised bed, with uneven balance on one leg or the other as the clods kept sinking and shifting underfoot. Crouching on firm flat ground to lift and turn little slices of thatch takes some energy, but so does standing on shifting soil whacking the thatch into pieces. But finally that was done. Upstairs I cleaned off the shovel and give it a nice polish with some damp and then dry paper towels. I carried the shovel back to Neighbor Aziz.
Aziz was out in front of his house, tending his prized fruit trees growing along the street. Last year he fashioned polite little signs and tied them to the bottom of each trunk. But our neighborhood dogs did not stop to read the signs, so now he was putting up little white picket fences all along the strip as a helpful hint to the dogs or at least their owners. To my chagrin, Captain Wing was right there helping to brace the fences in their post holes. Busted! I was afraid that at sight of the shovel he would feel hurt. But the two men just had a friendly laugh about my clandestine tippy-toeing around.
Later in his kitchen, plying me with yet more refreshments, Aziz explained “I had a talk with him. I said ‘Just leave Mary be, with all her digging ideas with dirt. It is not only for gardening; it is helpful for her mental state.‘”
Aziz was so right. It sure made for a good night’s sleep too.