A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
Thought I'd write a little fiction instead of polemics tonight...
* * *
In Just Spring: A Story
A fragile wind lifted itself over the crest of the hill and skiied down a slope of last fall's brown leaves slippery with mud, wobbling north and south until it eddied up against the boot poised atop the spade's rusted iron blade. Spring smells like decay, he thought. Not the fragrant blossoms of poetry, but of death heaved out of the earth to rise in a mockery of resurrection. The nascent compost scent of missed potatoes and broken broccoli blends with the slime of what were once beds of nasturtium. Hard snow rots in the shade of berms where the sun cannot bend its rays; unformed redwing blackbird cries echo a tentative claim to territory, on this post, that branch.
Every spring has been like this one. The shadows differ as trees grow or fall, and the wild grape vines now cover the butternut in a profusion for which the early settlers must have given thanks in their previous autumns. Twenty years ago, children's toys would appear as the blanket of snow was pulled back, and some would create an illusion of growing, like rocks, out of the garden soil. Rocks did seem to grow, he thought. Every spring with wheelbarrow tracing a stuttering path in the paddock, the rocks would be gathered up and rolled over the riverbank where their brief clatter would be drowned in the wet chill. Horses would pound the earth. And next year, more rocks would push up from the soil to be harvested.
Toys are seldom found now. A few broken pieces might defy the natural colors with their factory hues, but the children had gone to grow their own families. The glimmer of sun to river and river to window was a reminder that those rooms were for guests, or storage, or sleeping cats who no longer rouse for the howl of the train. That first spring, that first day: Adjusting his foot on the spade, he smiled, remembering how it sounded as if the train had left the tracks behind and was about to plummet through the door to the summer kitchen. And in no time, that whistle was hardly heard in a deafness of familiarity.
It was on a spring afternoon like this one that they had met. No, not in a garden, but while hiking up a mountain slope in the aimlessness of middle age he had seen her hair as if a fairy tale's reflection of sun and gold. Their voices sang in conversation, a composition that offered no hint of repetition and no simplicity of counterpoint, yet was classic in its harmony and dissonance, tension and release, and twist of temperaments. Like the winter wind turning into the spring's, and that to sultry summer, and that still to the lightness of fall and sharpness of winter, their words became their spirits and their spirits entwined to invent conversations of silence. She was a golden spirit, like her hair.
His head turned to watch a tractor pull up the hill, a break from the stream of ordinary cars. The road had been dirt once, and with its paving came noise and fuel smells and crushed pets and once even a car sliding down the shiny surface on an icy evening, coming to rest with its driver looking out his window with surprise into the living room across a six-inch gap. More redwings cried, breaking his memory of snow as the image peeled from his mental eyes, revealing again the softening soil beneath his boots.
The spade was aimed downward at an angle of experience, where muscles and balance sign an agreement of cooperation, one to push, the other to take careful note of the progress of the blade. The foot, the ankle, the knee, the back -- each one's longevity (and the turning of the garden) depended on adherence to the terms of that agreement. The angle was precise, the foot secure, the muscle tense, the treaty signed.
You can tell the season, the month, the week by the soil. In early spring the surface will crack and give and underneath a deep rebelliousness of final ice barricades itself against the iron point. The same spot a week later will be clay fit for modeling, and a week after that warm and loose as roots break it. In summer, it will be imprisoned by rhysomes of witchgrass, and after the killer frost be heavy with dead roots clutched in a rigor mortis of tangle. And in that swath of days between the season of mud and the season of snow, the soil can be lifted in two cupped hands and smelled -- as spiders skitter, beetles huddle and worms wriggle helplessly and pleading -- to know its intimate life-bearing darkness. And its feel. It neither cracks nor crumbles, nor sifts like hourglass sand, nor sticks together like snowball snow, but rather feels like deeply veined marble looks or mature red wine tastes, complex and defiant to description and grasped by experience alone.
Briefly he shifted the spade, for it had been carelessly left outside and the weathered handle was ready with a revenge of splinters. The earth will take back what it has given, and the tree-trunks that became handles for spades and rakes and axes and picks will splinter in their haste to return home. He recalled with a wince the maul that had just missed the far edge of the chunk of firewood in deep winter, the time below zero when wood splits as cleaving diamond, and its hickory handle sprang like a taught bowstring to catapult his pride forward into the woodpile. Mauls have plastic handles now, and besides, that was winter work.
She was inside today, sketching the plan of peas and tomatoes and cauliflower and peppers, the protective plants together, the possibility of melons if the season be long, even an eggplant. Once there had been an eggplant -- aubergine was foreign, but sounded just right for that fruit, he thought -- more savory in its singularity than all of the flourescent mounds of plump blue-black imports in the local grocery. Hot peppers, red bell peppers and purple and yellow ones were planted because dinner was more than mastication. She of the golden hair had taught him the look of food and he imagined how the barren corner on which he stood would by mid-summer be riotous with a waist-high vegetable coat of many colors.
The cat was watching slitty-eyed in the sun, old enough to remember previous summers when high flowers -- the flower garden was in front of the house -- would offer him hiding tunnels from which he could spring to attack passing legs with a two-pawed grab, lift and run. The cat had come from a friend whose life ebbed slowly away in pain; she was gone five years now, the cat having adopted her spirit, nourishing the garden with her tears so it would grow vibrant and virtuous. A redwing cried; an ear twitched back.
Another wind slid down the hill, this one a herald. More winters and springs had passed than there would be to come, but today he would plant the garden. It was always today, planting the garden. His boot pushed the spade deep into the soil.
Back to the Blog Index