Today I planted bulbs around the front yard of Frank’s house. Here, you can plant bulbs September – December, so when I saw them half price yesterday at the store, I bought a few and figured I’d take my chances planting them a bit late.
As I was digging in the muck, I thought to myself how rarely we have the time to notice things like the workings of a kitchen or the ecosystems of a garden when we travel. We’re too busy rushing around to look at the big things – the cathedrals, museums, restaurants and hotels. Ironic, how on vacation, we take time to look at the view, but we miss the snails lining the door of the shed, the teenagers sneaking behind the old wall to smoke, and the postman, in a blazing yellow vest, pushing his bike up the hill in the rain.
In any case, the ground here is very heavy, black clay, full of stones and roots. I’m sure it’s harder in this yard, too, because this used to be Frank’s granny’s house, and the garden hasn’t been used or tended for years. Instead of much grass, there’s a soft, spongy layer of moss, mixed with weeds and little flowering plants. There are already a few daffodils poking their heads through the soil, so I’m not sure the tulips will come up this year. But I dig holes for them anyway. Along the wall, there are vines with purple flowers, and in the corner, the brown sticks of an old rose bush poke out. The soil is alive with worms and grubs, centipedes and snails. I try not to disturb them too much. I think about the other places I’ve lived, and how carefully my father nurtured his plants in the short Montana growing season, while in Indiana, it seems like you could plant a rock and it would grow and flourish.
I find some pots behind the shed and empty a couple out. I’ll leave them in the back yard for the rain to rinse. They’ve been full of grime and cat fur for too long and I’d love to fill them with new dirt and flowers and put them out by the front door. It’s strange and wonderful to me how people can keep potted flowering plants outside all year long, even in the cold. I’m anxious to join the club.
I poke around the back yard a bit, climbing under the big pine tree and finding a lot of garbage and three sleeping cats who didn’t recognize me. As I turn around, dirty and holding a stick and a fireplace shovel, I notice Frank and his mother waving at me from the back window. I’m sure I make a great impression, with my dirty face, mismatched clothes, silly tools and MSU baseball cap, which I’ve been told makes me “look very American.” Ah well, I am what I am.
Climbing into the shower later to wash the dirt away, I can’t help but feel like the Dr. from “Master and Commander,” when he was finally allowed to explore the Galapagos Islands. Maybe none of the species here are new, but they’re all new to me, and I find that inspiring in its own rite.