When Conrad and I came to California in 1963, the first time I put my bare feet on the ground I knew, like an electric shock up my spine, “This is my home.” We were there for three years, and then it took thirty-three more to come back—to come back home.
A thing that captivated me immediately was that my skin could be open to embrace. The air, the sun, the rain, the wind, anything it had to offer was something I could get close to. Coming from a childhood in north-west Indiana did not prepare me for this kind of bliss. My childhood pagan-self immediately said Wahoo! and hugged the earth skin to skin.
In 2000 we moved permanently to Sonoma County, and soon thereafter I started constructing raised beds for vegetable gardening. Our area has one population above-ground that tries to neutralize the other population below-ground: gophers. It’s an arduous task to put gopher wire down below ground level to protect the new growing area above, but we did it, and for years our effort bore wondrous fruit.
Things change. Gopher wire is not immortal, and replacing it is a Herculean task. I was stubborn and did this replacement for a number of years, but one of the things that changes is physical stamina. I am not now the person who dug out the entire underside of the house when we first moved in and discovered that we had a problem. I am definitely not the person who put in daily shifts at the bottom of a six-foot shaft to employ a 50-foot snake to clear the leach-field pipes. I find that now aspiration and ability do not always mesh.
So now, the sad state of my garden hurts. For two years, the normal spring has gone awry. Early abnormal heat in February kicks buds into action that have no pollinators yet awake. Sudden bursts of leaves are then greeted with abnormal killing frosts. Plants do their best to adjust and then are greeted with long spans of killing heat and absolute drought. My tomato plants that in previous years were heavy with red fruit are hung with a few small grass-green burps.
I have used my gardening as a potent fertilizer for my spirit. The imprinting memory of union with the earth in 1963 is still there. But today, I have to revise my day to do any earth-work in the early morning, and I need to schedule more hours to carry water. The plants are feeling it, too, and at the end of August I am seeing the first green tomatoes, whereas my old July job was to keep up with the blizzard of heavy red fruit.
My old earth-lover has changed her tune. I can’t reverse this. I am working to accept and adjust and embrace what is now her pattern. But I’ve gotta say, I miss what I had.