Eighty eight degrees in Seattle in mid April. This is an unremembered occurrence, if not unheard of. I was out wallowing in the earth during the weekend, trying to get ahead of weeding the garden outside the front fence and tending to the peas that I am training up the fence. It took me years to get it through my head that peas won’t vine up the fence with the unerring migration of salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Peas don’t have even very little brains let along GPSs.
Too much time goes by between my visits to the garden thus far in the season. I get out there just in time to have to weed the same area I worked on two weeks prior. I put in quite a few hours this weekend just to get ahead of the peas.
Tim and I have a compost bin this year.
“Put all your kitchen scraps in it,” he told me. “Everything except meat products.”
So I did.
Then it was, “Our compost isn’t going to get hot enough to break down citrus peels.”
I started sorting out the peels of heirloom oranges that I eat like candy this time of year.
Then I was told, “It’s best to break things into smaller pieces so everything composts evenly.”
I started chopping the wilted celery stalks.
Then, “I’ve never seen marshmallows in a compost bin.”
“You said everything except meat products and the marshmallows are just the right size,” I said. “I also feel the need to say they are left over from Pajama Week. I got them for my students. I only eat artisanal marshmallows.”
It’s weird having someone comment on my garbage.
There’s a mental composting that goes on when I weed. It’s one of the things I love about it—following the thoughts that go through my mind. For example I was planting more peas and I remembered the little song I used to teach my preschoolers when I worked in Head Start:
Four seeds in a hole,
Four seeds in a hole;
One for the mouse,
One for the crow,
One to rot
And one to grow.
We sang it while dropping four pinto beans in a little ceramic pot. They could sing it all day. Everyone had to have a turn with the pinto beans and then they wanted to do it again.
Memory is like an eye floater. Memories float to the front and continue on their rounds. I have a shady woodland area to the north of the house that’s full of violets, lily of the valley and oxalis. I gave a flat of oxalis to my analyst once. His office had a sliding French door opening to a little garden, which to my mind needed more plants.
“These are oxalis,” I told him. They are invasive and you’ll never get rid of them. I thought they would remind you of me.”
On the other side of the house my raspberries live in danger of being choked to death by Bindweed, more elegantly called Morning Glory. I spent an hour grinding my teeth while I went for their extensive root system. Fortunately the roots are easy to find. They are big fat white things, no nuance whatsoever. It’s either stupidity or arrogance on their part. On the other hand it takes a long time to finally choke the bindweed to death. They’ve got tenacity. So do I though my aforementioned analyst called it stubbornness.
“You’re no one to talk,” I said.
He once told me that he was trying to garden at his home and he kept looking in magazines and talking to people and he didn’t know how to proceed.
“Why don’t you just get in there and try things?” I asked
“Why can’t you do that with your life?” he shot back.
I planted carrots last spring. I planted them all over the garden to see where they grew best. They mostly didn’t grow at all. I got several the size of a thumb that were tasty nonetheless. There is nothing like the sweetness of a carrot pulled out of the earth on a warm day, rinsed off with the hose and eaten with a little dirt still on it. As I went around the garden last weekend I found big, sweet carrots in all the locations I had planted them. They had come through the winter . They had flourished. I ate every last one.
When I’m out in the garden, I like it when I have a cat for company. I like to look up and share their contentment or see what they are sniffing or batting at. Cats never oblige. Still I have found a way to get Artemis to at least come for a visit. I call her sworn enemy Suli, the cat across the street. In fact any time I need Artemis I call for Suli and within a few minutes Artemis has shown up. Suli never does.
The last thing I did in the garden was to put the forced hyacinth bulbs in the ground. Round about October I set hyacinth bulbs in an elegant ceramic trough my mother made. I anchor them with rocks, pour in a half inch of water and put them in a cold dark place. This tricks them into thinking it’s winter a few months before it actually is.
I water them periodically until January when actual hyacinths start to appear. At this point they look pretty jaundiced. After few days in a warm, lighted area, they get color in their cheeks and scent in their bloom and are cheerful and fun to have in the house. I cut the hyacinths down to the bulb when they come to the end of their cycle.
The bulbs will never bloom again after they’ve once been forced but I still put them in the ground as a kind of burial. It’s a bittersweet habit, forcing bulbs. They are lovely but they also remind me that when people, especially children, are forced to do something they aren’t ready for, it can mean they will never do it again.
“Why don’t you just get in there and try things?”
“Why can’t you do that with your life?”
That’s compost for us all.