My mother gardened bare-handed.
She took joy in burying both hands in the soil, happy to sit in peaceful companionship with earthworms and bumblebees.
She was the only mother in our neighborhood who planted vegetables, read "Organic Gardening" magazine and knew what a beneficial nematode was. She made us yogurt and Tiger’s Milk, put wheat germ in our home-baked bread. There was no soda pop in our refrigerator, ever. (She would buy Cap’n Crunch cereal when we begged her to.)
I've been especially thinking about my mother lately. I've been down with back-to-back illnesses, and though it is long since I was under her care, and she is gone now, like a child I still long for her made-from-scratch soup when I'm in need of nurturing.
My mother made amazing soups: Chicken soup flavored with carrot and bay leaf, and a steaming flotilla of light, fluffy dumplings. Slow-simmered white bean soup with ham bone. And a thick, warm, green split pea with carrot soup that could mend broken bones, dry tears, fill up all your lonely places.
That soup was full of mother love. And until the end of time, there will never be anyone else in the world who can make anything for me that contains that particular and precious ingredient.
So I've been ill. And as they can't help but do, sicknesses set one back. There was still digging and planting to be done. The little native grasses I’d brought home in September waited still in their cardboard trays on the back porch, catching day after day of westering sun, witness to the chickadees and cardinals on their daily visits to the feeder—all while managing to avoid the squirrels’ interest in uprooting plants altogether. Survivors, clearly.
In mid-October—perilously late in the northern year for planting—I entrusted them to the ground, like an incantation:
Side oats grama.
I murmured to them as I freed them from their plastic containers, where their fine, pale roots had wrapped around and around in their search for the earth. They were, I thought, desperate to escape and expand into the soil of here.
A place where they evolved perfectly to grow.
A place that evolved perfectly to grow them.
I sat in the dirt with trowel and bare hands, and dug a hole for each one—a waving, seedheaded, wind-sized hole, a singing sweetness-sized hole.
Be welcome, I told them. Take root. Do not regard passing feet or wheels. Hold fast through winter, as we all must do.
Rest. You are home now.
The sun was pale-fading by the time I finished, and so was I.
I scrubbed the good soil from my hands and ate soup that my mother did not make, casting my own blessings upon it.
And maybe dreamed that night of feathery white roots, questing for home.