Digging in the Rain

Two days ago, I woke up to a dreary, overcast morning. I headed straight for the teakettle, then settled into my desk to write. It had all the earmarks of a perfect writing day: a day when all you want to do is stay snuggled up inside, and the rain falling on the other side of the window reassures you that, even if you wanted to, there would be nothing useful for you to do in the garden. Even though I love tending my plants, and would be destitute without them, it’s nice to be given a break now and then. To have nature tell me to sit tight and do nothing.

Well, I wrote until about ten o’clock, when I realized it still wasn’t raining, even though the clouds overhead were becoming thicker and darker. I took the tiniest break from my writing desk and wandered to the back of the house, from where I can see the vegetable garden. I looked out on the expanse that, regrettably, is mostly dirt at present, and still not nearly the size it needs to be to contain all the plants I have in store for it this season. It was 24’ by 42’, when it needed to be something more like 24’ by 85’. As I gazed out at the waiting soil, dotted here and there with delicious chickweed and pepperweed, I saw that the soil was quite light in color, lighter than it had been any day since fall. The realization dawned on me that, though it looked like a downpour was threatening at any moment, the soil was at this moment optimally dry for digging. And that meant one very clear thing: there was immediate work to be done.

I closed the computer, donned my jeans with the knees falling out and my hand-me-down Quail Cove Farms T-shirt, and headed to the yard. So I’d been wrong about the message nature was sending me today: it wasn’t to sit tight and do nothing; it was to hurry up and dig while the digging was good. Before the rain soaked the ground into an undiggable state for another ten days. But there was something reassuring about this message, too. With dark clouds looming overhead, it was even more unequivocal than the last: This must be done NOW. I had no choice in the matter. And so I went single-mindedly to my task.

There is something incredibly peaceful about being single-minded, whatever the chore. All of my usual second-guessing (maybe I really should have written another page before leaving my desk for the day?) is wiped entirely away. Whatever part of my brain is usually occupied with constantly planning and re-planning my activities gets a sudden, merited rest. And the result is a sense of well-being so profound I almost wonder if someone slipped something into my morning tea. All I have to do right now is dig. Dig until the rain starts.

It had been a while since I’d worked outside in the morning. Usually I took to the garden in the afternoon, once I’d finished the day’s writing and the air and soil had warmed up a little. I’d forgotten, actually, how different being outside in the morning is. How different the air smells. More intensely. Before the sun-warmed currents send all of the scents skyward. Add to that the thermos of fresh coffee I took intermittent swigs from, and it was almost like being in heaven. A very gray heaven.

Well, I dug probably about 75 sq. ft. before the rain drops started to fall. They were small drops at first. Dainty and unmenacing. Nothing to prevent me from starting another swath of sod when I got to the end of the first. By this time I was warm enough from working that I’d already stripped off my rain jacket. My cell phone was in the pocket, though, and I didn’t want it to get soaked, so I stuffed my jacket under the wheelbarrow. The rain continued to fall, a little heavier, and I continued to dig, a little faster. You’re not supposed to dig when the soil is soaked, but the rain wouldn’t soak the soil for a while yet. In the early spring, I realized, when it takes soil so long to dry out in the chill air, the best window for digging can be the first hour or so that the next rain is falling. And so I kept on, even as the drops doubled and tripled in size, and tiny rivulets began to run down my neck and into my shirt. This is what farmers do, I told myself. They do the work that needs to be done, with no regard for their own comfort. The rain, the sweat, the weight of yet another block of sod on my shovel, needing to be flung upside down into the waiting ditch, was enough to make me feel like a minor hero.

And I thought, We all need this once in a while. Contact with the elements. A minor race against the weather. A bite-sized portion of the primordial struggle to wring a living from the land.

When my second swath was finished, I called it quits. Took a hot shower. Reveled in my vaguely sore muscles. Took pleasure in knowing I had done my duty as a dedicated gardener.

Then yesterday morning dawned. Warm and sunny. The ground looked suspiciously dry. I took a trowel to the earth. The soil was still diggable, even after all the rain. What to do? Regret spending the previous morning getting soaked for nothing?

Nope. Just get out the shovel and enjoy digging in the sunshine.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Elena says:

    Regrets? Heavens no. Sounded like a fabulous morning! I do love taking direction from the sky. It reminds me of when I used to hang my laundry on a clothesline, and there were days when we would play games, the sky and me, it threatening with a couple drops, me taking some clothes down in a hurry, then poof! the sun breaking out from behind the clouds, so I’d put them back up. Then a downpour out of nowhere. That would always make me laugh. “You got me!” 😀

  2. Debi says:

    I love this! I have nothing like your dedication in gardening or writing, but I’m inspired just the same.

  3. margaret says:

    you captured the essence of gardening for me! i love the focussed, present moment feeling i have when gardening…one of the only times i can quiet the never-ending ticker-tape of thoughts in my head. thank you!

  4. Nice! I envy you all that rain and that magnificent plot of land. We are having one of the driest winters on record, even for our already arid climate.

    1. Sharon says:

      That seems to be the way recently–those with rain get even more, those without, even less…

      1. I no longer remember what counts as “typical.” The climates really are changing.

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