Tilling Day

This is not a metaphor for anything. No bigger meaning. Today was tilling day. I didn’t realize it till I got outside and saw the bumble bees pollinating the weeds in my garden. But it was.

I still till my garden in the old fashioned way. I use a shovel. I know the correct term is “spade,” but I can’t help it. Mine is just a standard, hole-digging, all-purpose shovel.

I realize it would be possible to use a tiller. I don’t own one, but I know someone who does. I could borrow a truck, load it up, bring it out here, and till to my heart’s content. But it would take longer to do all that than it does just to grab the shovel and start turning clods of dirt.

I turn them, break them up, and move to the next “row.” It’s a time-honored thing. People in my family have been doing this who-knows-how-long. Probably in yours too, if you look back far enough.

I know, too, that some new gardening techniques exist that involve layering stuff on the ground and “never tilling or hoeing again.” I’ve even tried some of these. But nothing beats the feel of turning clods of soil, breaking them up, and moving to the next row. I get to feel the dirt. Better yet, I get to smell it. I can see how much clay I still have down under the surface, or how powdery and dusty the soil might be getting. Over the past few years, I’ve managed to get some dark into this North Carolina red clay. I turn up rocks, too; I hear the familiar clink against the shovel’s tip, and then I root around a bit and out comes yet another.

When God was making America, he put good farming soil in some places, and clay in others. Then he gave the best sun and rain and the longest growing season to the places with the worst soil, and vice versa. It’s a test of our ingenuity, I suppose. But with the advent of composting, I make progress.

I get tomato plants taller than I am, a thing I never saw in Ohio.

I felt bad for the bumble bees, a little. But there are other weeds nearby, and pear blossoms across the yard. With any luck, they’ll find those, and eventually they’ll make it back to this spot, when the squash blossoms are here and the tomato blossoms start in.

So that was tilling day. I told you there was no metaphor here. No bigger meaning. If I had to reach for one–probably shouldn’t, but it would be that with all the changes in life, the technology and global this and the other, all of which I’m deeply invested in most days … it’s nice to pick up a shovel and turn clods, like my ancestors did. An honest hour of sweat, for such bounty. North Carolina summers are so generous.

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