I go to the summer service at 10 today, but it doesn’t start until next week. So I’m 45 minutes late.
“Missed your sermon,” I say to the rector, who is shaking hands with the sparse Memorial Day congregantion.
“Then stay for the next service,” he says. He looks at me eagerly. He’s worked hard on the sermon, I’m sure.
I smile politely.
I think, “No way.” Church today will be my garden.
The weeds need tending. Thistle and dandelion snuggle in between birds-of-paradise; they attempt to disguise themselves as tomato leaves; they fake membership in the herb garden.
My first real garden, after six years of living in the desert.
I hug it with my eyes every morning.
A half inch of gravel cools the soil.
To reach each weed, I scrape away bits of gravel.
Under my floppy straw hat, using my mother’s ancient garden tools, I merge with my six-year-old self. Mommy cautions:
“Dig down to the roots. You have to get out the whole root or they’ll grow back even tougher.”
Little Girl Me tends Her Very Own Flower Bed of fat yellow marigolds. A rainbow of zinnias cluster against the white picket fence.
“I grew these.” To think that these beautiful flowers came from a few miniscule black specks takes her breath away.
Mommy has taught her to distinguish between the unwanted weeds and the tender garden plants.
She pulls up her first beautiful carrots by the back steps, amazed. Rinsed off with the garden hose; this carrot is a miracle – crunchy, sweet, earthy.
“I grew these.” Little Girl Me feels the power of Creation in that bunch of carrots.
We’re one as I push the weeder down through soft soil, almost down to the handle. My knee brushes against a cluster of sage. Its heady fragrance reminds me that I’ll sizzle some for the green beans tonight.
The thistle are tricky; their roots twist and turn below the surface; daring me to capture each tiny fiber.
Dandelions are puny and tough, clinging to the soil; back East we had enough dandelions in the yard to make a stir-fry.
They taunt me, these weeds: “Why us?” they mutter.
“Why do you nurture her, that ostentatious plant growing right next to us?” they grumble.
Why indeed? I tug and twist. Thistles bite through my cotton garden gloves, fighting to stay put. Changing to leather gloves, I soldier on. God, I’m guessing, gave us weeds to better appreciate the flowers.
Little Girl Me finds juicy earthworms and saves them for fishing with Daddy.
I haven’t seen an earthworm yet.
Do they even live in this heat? Or do they dry up like those night crawlers who had the misfortune to emerge onto asphalt instead of lawn? Where they turned flat and crispy by noon.
I fill half a bucket with weeds and turn them into the compost. Deep into the middle where they’ll decompose quickly.
Little Girl Me wipes her dirty hands on her overalls. In the summer, her fingernails are nearly always lined with dirt.
In her Saturday night bath, she runs a toothpick under her nails, softened by bathwater, sliding out a week’s worth of digging.
“Wash between your toes,” Mommy reminds her.
Daddy calls out from the living room, “If you don’t I’m gonna plant potatoes between those toes!”
Little Girl Me believes him. She imagines tiny potatoes nestled among her toes, their vines curling around her ankles. She giggles.
I will expand my garden come fall. My compost will be ready then; the desert weather will be right. Little Girl Me will be right beside me as I weed and hoe – and when I pull up and taste my first carrots. Still as amazing as they were for the six-year-old who thought potatoes could grow between her toes.
No sermon within the walls of a church can beat this.