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Thursday, 5 November 2009

Bringing in the Harvest = Austin


My wife is a dedicated gardener and I’m a dedicated eater. For some reason, she thinks that should earn help in that earthy enterprise every once in a while. Truth to tell, I actually enjoy it once I’m at it, and can pull weeds quite happily. My back complains after a while, but we’ll usually come in then and put the coffee pot on. And somehow, when I’m enjoying a salad that night with lettuce from our own garden, and the rhubarb crisp that makes me think for a while that maybe apple pie is not my favorite dessert – there is something wholesome and good about the dirt under my fingernails.

We’ve raised a lot of different vegetables and fruits in that small patch of soil. Most things we have to plant yearly, though a few find a way to reemerge without any help from us. There always seem to be a few potatoes that come up in strange places. They start early, but seem to be rooted extra deep, so out-produce anything we plant that spring. But there is one crop we have never planted, yet have harvested by the truck-load. I don’t know the reproductive cycle of stones and boulders. I don’t know their feeding patterns or growth rate. But somehow, after 26 years on that same garden patch, we’re still harvesting them. And this year, if there had been a category at the fall fair (there is one for almost anything else you can get out of your garden) we’d have had the winner and the runner-up.

I’m wondering if it’s the rabbit manure. The pile behind the barn has shrunk in the years since we last raised rabbits. It is unquestionably one of the best fertilizers available. Does it stimulate the reproductive system of stones? Or does it work like a steroid and cause rapid growth and greater muscle mass? It’s one area I have never researched.

On one of those days when my wife managed to get me out there, the garden fork made a distinct ringing sound that a skillful writer like me should be able to describe with great precision. Quite unlike the dull cutting noise of biting deeply into black loam, this sound came from a circle almost two feet around (60 cm for you poor indoctrinated metric readers). Much of the garden produce had already been brought in. My usual excuse of not wanting to dig up any plants just wouldn’t work. So I traded the fork for a shovel.

Now there is a process for unearthing boulders. They are very reluctant to leave their beds in the soil. Though they don’t argue out loud, their body language is expressive. When the shovel hits them they spit sparks. When a bar probes beneath them they actually groan, then settle back with a dull “whump” as soon as the bar is removed. They cling to the soil. They will twist and turn, but stubbornly refuse to leave their beds.

If your spouse is a physiotherapists, there are approved ways of lifting, but you have a suspicion they are approved for someone younger who isn’t named in her will. So now you dig a ramp. You move a lot of dirt. Then you send her to bring the wheelbarrow and with her back turned you get down in the hole and you grunt and groan and gasp. And she comes back and you are dirtier than before – but the boulder is still there.

You bring another pry-bar from the barn, and a steel pipe and a couple blocks of wood. And you wedge and pry and groan and gasp and the thing is up an inch. And you wedge and pry and groan and gasp and it’s up four inches. And you get down in the hole again. You’ve managed so far without swearing even once, but somehow your spouse knows now is not a good time to remind you of the approved way of lifting. And you get your hands around that beast and grit your teeth – and you groan and gasp and this time it surrenders – for one half turn. Kissing it hadn’t been on your mind, or any other romantic thoughts toward it, but somehow you have mud in your mouth. You spit it out and step down into the hole and you get your whole body behind it. And stubborn as that boulder is, you’re even more stubborn, and one half turn, then two, then three – and you’re wishing you’d made the ramp longer, less slope, but the thing is out. And your head is pounding and your arms feel like rubber and your spouse is somewhere between calling you a fool, calling you a hunk and calling 911.

Your pride makes you keep going so you roll it to the edge of the garden, because you’ll never move the wheelbarrow in the soft soil. It’s another day’s workout to get it there, but pride is a brutal taskmaster, so you lay the wheelbarrow beside it, roll the boulder in and then reluctantly accept your spouses help to tip the wheelbarrow back onto its wheel. It only half flattens the tire and you almost tip the wheelbarrow when you get hold of the handles. Still, somehow you make it back behind the barn without losing the thing. And you tip it out and step back and you feel like A MAN! But as you take the wheelbarrow back to the barn, your back reminds you there are approved ways of lifting. You’re tempted to tell a certain physiotherapist your back is killing you, but you’re not sure you can duck fast enough right now.

It may have been the mate my wife found just two days later. This one proved even bigger, and sat deeper in the soil. If they have produced offspring I may suggest we sell.

Just a note to other harvesters of strange garden produce: It is easier to get around “approved ways of lifting” during the hours when physiotherapists are at work. However, it doesn’t make the actual lifting easier. Complaining of backaches is not recommended for at least three days after.

4 comments:

Jenny Burr said...

Brian,

So funny and yet so true.

Peter Black said...

Brian,
You just can't hide the poet in you. Your descriptive narrative had me down the hole, too, heaving, puffing, and panting. And now I'm getting outta there, my back's hurting way too much!

Glynis said...

And to think there are businesses that make money selling the dratted things! Hey...there's a thought, Brian. Funny story and well written, sir! Blessings...

Alanna said...

Ha! I'm imagining mom calling you a hunk...quite the tale you weave, father! Did you ever get the second one out?