142 / 365 – Dirt is Over

KATHY ENGELS

So the garden is done. We took the last of the flats of seedlings out this morning, some varieties of pepper plants from Yugoslavia or Bulgaria or somewhere that he wasn’t sure about. And not sure about them even after checking in books, any number of the old guides to vegetable farming and poultry and livestock that spill over the shelves he’s built over his decks. And he had also a few last herbs that he knew don’t like cool air, like bay.

After we had finished, Mike came in and took down the stacks of sawhorses and two-by-fours and planks that have cluttered the house for the last two months, propping up seedlings inside on the sunny side of the house, leaned against the windowsills and tucked into the warm corners. This time of year the seedlings pretty much crowd out the family room — at night the kids were tucked all close into the TV to watch anything, even though we don’t get much reception up here. And the dining room — things stack up on the table while we’re waiting for the frosts to clear. We can’t have anybody over for supper, although Mike doesn’t mind. He says, “Fall is when it’s fun to have visitors. Who wants to come over on a Saturday night and eat the last of the tomatoes we canned in the fall?

And all the clutter isn’t half of it. There’s the dirt that it’s everything. In March and April the house starts to really smell up like dirty, with all the fresh potting soil getting spooned into plastic containers for seeds.I’ve learned to not complain about the composty soil that gets in the carpet there. That’s not a battle I want to fight any more, or at least want to win. Being married to Mike I’ve had to make peace with dirt. Dirt makes the man come to life. When it comes to March and he’s got a yard of dirt and he’s mixing in our compost, he’s an excited as I ever seen him. Seed time is Christmas for Mike, I think. So I’ve learned to ignore how it takes over. How we don’t ever have people over to the house once we start planting seeds indoors at the end of March. We don’t notice that smell of thick rich dirt, dirt full of compost, while we’re eating a hotdish or burgers from the stove or a big breakfast on Sunday morning. After awhile you realize they come together. That sweet and sour smell of the dirt is where all the good food comes from. Or so Mike says. And I’ve decided I’ll go along with that way of thinking.

The peppers we planted today were something new out of the seed catalog. Mike’s getting ambitious now, now that the cafe is taking so much of what we produce. They’ve saved us, really. Once Mike thought we were going to have this huge garden and feed the whole town. It’s a couple of acres now — our back yard and a fenced-in area in the field behind us. But nobody was interested. Most people have some kind of garden, and it seems like the rest are happy to buy the days-old produce trucked in to the little market in town, which always seemed like the castoff stuff they didn’t want at the big markets in Fargo or the Twin Cities. You’d think people would want something better, but a lot of them are almost hostile about it. It’s been a few years now and I’ve had time to wonder why. And all I can think is that they see all this trouble we go to to grow this food as somehow a criticism of the food they’ve always bought and eaten. It’s like they can’t even see it for what it is except as a comment on how they live. As if we had time to walk around through town and criticize everyone. People would be the ones criticizing us, all covered in dirt all the time. Sometimes this time of year I’m amazed we get the dirt washed off before we head for school.

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