From Dust to Dustier

What is it about dirt? I’m having trouble capturing my thoughts about it. No—I’m having trouble capturing the feelings it’s been evoking lately. There’s something there, deep underground that teases me when I’m out in the morning trying to keep my plants alive.

We’ve had moderate to severe drought conditions here this summer, so nothing is thriving. Also, this past spring, we decided to remove what was left of the old mulch on the perennial beds, amend the soil, and add new mulch; but the only part of that plan we implemented was removing the old mulch. So, here’s my dirt, used up and fried in the sun. No rich organic matter mixed in for nourishment. No mulch for protection. Some plants still managed to grow and flower, but many remained stunted. I can’t even discuss my daisies. It hurts to look at what they’ve become.

Alongside the ghosts of my bee balm and echinacea are gaping holes where squirrels have dug up every bulb they can find. If you look closely, you’ll see that some of these are deep enough to expose the richer soil that’s still there underneath the dust and sand. Seeing that, I feel a tiny spark of hope. We need the soaking rain and compost and mulch, but there’s hope. Some of these roots run deep; some of these plants will survive. Next year might be better after all.

I pull the hose behind me as I stretch to reach the fuchsia hanging near the fence. The annuals are doing better in their individual baskets, though the petunias are tired. I should have fed them, but never got around to it. It’s been that kind of year. I whisper my apologies to what’s left and silently thank the hardy few who continue to bloom—vinca and impatiens and begonia and scaevola, some fighting harder than others to survive, even while showing their wounds.

This is my life. I am dust and sand and silt. I am the petunia that stopped blooming, the daisies that didn’t grow. I am the vinca and the fuchsia, still chugging along in the heat and drought. I am probably those weeds by the street as well. I’ll think about that later. If I let myself, I can dig deeper until I find the lessons hidden in the dark earth, the ones teasing me each time I step outside, each time I dare feel my connection to the life around me.

Contemplation must wait. The little one is awake (she’s here again because her mother is sick), so my day has begun. The dirt will still be there tomorrow.

ETA: She’s decided to “nap.” That’s code for lie in bed watching The Powerpuff Girls on Netflix. But it means I get to sit a minute with my laptop and write a bit more. (I wrote “think a bit more” but changed it, since I know I’m not doing any real thinking here.) Still…that deep dirt is nagging me, because I still haven’t captured what it is that’s drawing me.

The initial tug I felt had to to with the deep earth and the idea that all that’s gone before now, not just this chapter of our lives in this house, with this grandchild, but all of it, can be nourishing if I let it. All the loss, the heartache, the bits of life that have died off and decayed, all of it has gone into making this rich soil, rich soul, that I can tap into and drink from. I can pull nutrients from the breakdown of those experiences—mine, my parent’s, my children’s. Those of relatives who passed long ago, but are still remembered in the stories we tell about our family, about who we are.

Years of longing, tears, anger, and sorrow are mixed there with the triumphs and the joys that are harder for some reason to recall. All of this digested life feeds who I am today. I tend to concentrate my attention on the uppermost layer, the dried-out dirt, baked too hot in the summer’s sun and left too long without rain. I owe it to myself to dig deeper.

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