Edward J. Gallagher
I have a kind of romance with the earth.
A strange romance.
An odd romance.
It will surprise you that my favorite part of the garden process is preparation, the first part, the beginning part, the hard part.
I love to turn the earth in my backyard garden.
It’s a sacred rite of spring for me.
I find it regenerative.
I love to break winter’s hard crust to make way for flowers.
I love to turn the earth from one on which you can bounce a golf ball to one that embraces it.
I will pull to the side of the road to watch a farmer on tractor furrowing his land.
The plow is an artist’s tool.
Those rigidly straight, monotonous furrows are works of incalculable aesthetic value to me.
In spring I yield to an instinctive primitive urge to dig, an urge akin to, as powerful as, and as inescapable as rut.
Using a shovel, surely one of mankind’s simplest and earliest tools, I am eager to show that the earth is still soft underneath.
I am eager to work the earth, to work with the earth, the rich, dark, fecund earth.
I am Nature’s mid-wife.
I am the preparer in the garden’s division of labor.
But the turned earth — earth turned into static dry waves lapping over my boots — is an end in itself.
I do not have to — I don’t! — cast my mind’s eye forward to take my pleasure.
I don’t have to imagine flowers filling the future landscape at my feet.
I live in the moment.
Churned earth — churned, naked, rank-smelling earth — is an end in itself.
I could look satisfyingly at vigorously turned dirt flower beds the entire season.
Nothing necessarily needs to grow.
Perhaps some artist in a Millet mode would paint me in profile in late day sun, knees bent, slouching wearily into my shovel while gazing dreamily down at my loving, cleaving work.
It should surprise no one if some day I don’t plant flowers but spend the spring and summer delighting in the beauty of ever freshly turned earth.
A dirt garden.
Now there’s a novel idea.
Edward J. Gallagher is a retired Lehigh University professor of American literature whose small backyard is his Walden Pond.