The nursery opens at 9am. I pull into its lot at 9:01. I tell myself that my sense of urgency is because it's Earth Day, and I want to get going on my celebration of this planet we're lucky to call ours. But honestly, any day I know I'll get a few hours in the garden prompts this same hurried, eager response.
"Just mulch and topsoil," I swear to myself. "You've damn near kept the nursery in business this past month. Be responsible," the angel on my shoulder says. Or was it the devil?
I don't even get a cart, just a cardboard tray. Just in case. I will myself past the annuals, their colors and whimsy calling to me like sirens. "You are fucking Homer," I whisper to myself. "You do not want to approach the rocky, floral, one-season shores."
But the freshly delivered palates of vegetables in the next tent throw me off; I am not expecting them. I tear off my blindfold and earplugs and jump toward the craggy bank strewn with young tomato plants. I cannot resist their herbal leaves and weeping yellow buds of promise. All I can think about is picking and eating handfuls of Sungolds and Sweet 100s, still warm from the sun, in just a month or two.
Then I see the hot pepper plants. And the Chinese eggplant. Like a thief in a store, I pluck up a few pots and hurry to the registers. "Just these, six bags of shredded hardwood mulch, and two bags of topsoil, please."
I am kind-of Homer. I head home.
Garden gloves on, a bright sun warming my back, I dig and weed, fill in and transplant, mulch and water. A woodpecker taps assertively in a nearby tree. A happy melange of birds sing songs so cheery that they nearly circle back to irritating. But not quite. I consider that mulch is like nature's make-up; it makes everything look so polished.
"Oh, you are such a good worm. Look at you, Mr. Worm, doing such a fine job. Thank you." Any passerby might wonder about me, but actually, in our lovely new neighborhood, they might not. There are many avid gardeners in our midst. We feel an instant kinship. No one cares about my dirty hands or sweaty hair.
Tom arrives home early. I've hardly seen him since my birthday, and his being home when it's still light out is a nice treat. I seat the kids at the patio table with huge bowls of fresh, steaming spaghetti and meatballs, pour a glass of wine, and, as T gets a beer, ask if he will indulge me by taking a spin in the yard.
"Sure, honey. Where are my shoes?"
Arm in arm, we loop from the front door, around and back. "Look, hon, I divided and transplanted the heuchera! They're a native plant so especially well-suited to this region and also fairly hardy. The Cotton Easter is out of control, but I'll deal with it tomorrow. The azaleas and sedum look great."
"You've worked hard, Em. I like getting our yard in order."
"Me too, sweetie."
I think of how nice a hot bath will soon feel. How the soles of my feet are probably going to stay dirt-brown until September. How I don't care at all because their colored hue symbolizes hard work, investment, deep pleasure and our home.
I think of how I used to smirk at my parents as they made similar treks around our yard. How Mom always saw the big picture and Dad liked to assume tripod position -legs spread wide, one arm planting his torso, the other ready to pick any philandering weeds- to deal with two square inches of grass.
I am a perfect blend of them; eager to conquer and beautify the whole but deeply interested in hand-culling every single unwelcome guest from my plot. I am aware of what I look like in tripod position. I think of myself as Ouiser Boudreaux from Steel Magnolias, with a healthy dose of Imelda Marcos and Nigella Lawson thrown into the mix.
I think about how happy I am to be all of these things: dirty, sweaty, humble, fancy. How I used to hate grass and bugs and sweat and dirty fingernails, about those immature pubescent smirks as my parents spent time together after a long day, about what they showed me about a loving couple spending time together.
How I now talk to worms and don't shoo away bees and appreciate dirt and take my own husband for a garden walk before the sun sets. How I use birthday gift certificates on tomato plants and nitrile gloves.
I think that really, every day is Earth Day, or should be. And I am thankful.
One bunny hops across the road while another scampers through a neighbor's yard. I know they terrorize gardens, but they are so freaking cute. I wave like a mad-woman at a fat squirrel in my bird-feeder. "Get away, you pilfering beast," I call out, even though he's awfully cute. I go in, he returns, I shoo him away once more, a cardinal moves in. I was rooting for the sparrow but he was too meek, so the cardinal won first dibs on all that the squirrel had unwillingly left behind.
I clean the boys' dishes, spoon them ice cream, pour some more wine and listen as my oldest FaceTimes with his poetry partner. It is the most sincere, darling flirting happening amidst the equally sincere homework assignment.
"Mom, can K come for dinner one night?"
"Of course, sweetie. I would love that! She is a wonderful girl."
It's amazing how time passes and things change. A garden grows, bulbs self-cultivate, children mature, technology enables early attraction in a way I never knew.
"Mom, can I tell you about our texting? It was so silly!" my oldest calls. And I go to him, even though it's late, even though I'm tired, because he wants to tell me everything they exchanged, which poem is his favorite, which emojis she used.
I wouldn't trade all of this for anything.