Feb 7, 2006

Looking at weeds

Mom was a gardener and Dad was a Gardener. Every spring Dad'd be gone mowing and edging and trimming until way past dark and all summer he'd smell of grass and gas and the lines in his hands would stain dark green. Mom grew sunflowers along the back fence and black-eyed Susans by the front porch and she'd spend the spring and the summer walking up and down garden rows, her bare feet leaving toe prints in the soft dirt. Every fall the tomatoes would stop turning red and the frost would fall and we'd pick zucchinis.

There's a picture of me somewhere, from the spring I was 12, wrestling a rototiller down rows. Wearing blue flannel and a baseball cap and fighting the last frost and the rocks, I'd cut out the sod and the crab grass with a maddox and a shovel and gas and oil up the rototiller and bang out the air filter and pull on the pull cord knotted into the coughing clogged up engine. When it wouldn't start I'd step up on the edge of the rototiller and throw myself back, heels pulling at the dirt until the engine rolled over. The exhaust would puff and choke out the front and the blades would turn and I'd hold the handles, pulling back, fighting to hold it still and it'd turn and bite into the ground, spewing up the roots and the rocks and the dirt in a circle. It'd dig down and down until the engine was sinking into the overturned dirt and then I'd let it go climbing up out of its fresh-dug hole and up onto the frosted top again and then again I'd fight to hold it. It was a fight the whole way down and up, but in the end I'd let the tiller turn out into the grass and look back at the turned up lot. Finished. Accomplished. I'd walk out over the dirt with a rake, breaking up dirt clods and looking for worms and watching the birds come down to scratch and pick after grubs.

It must of been the next spring or the spring after, when after all the tilling and weeding, watering and harvesting had given me the taste for it, when I'd smelled the furrowed dirt and the rotting leaves, the sun-turned basil and the frost-black vines, that I decided to grow something for myself. I decided to grow lettuce. A plot of lettuce to sell at a farmers market or fair or to friends. I tilled a plot, a brown dirt square, and raked it over and over. Threw out rocks and pulled up crab grass roots. Dad and I went down to the seed store and bought a whole sale pack of lettuce seeds. Little seeds, pointy at one end and the smallest I'd ever seen, and when the long-bearded overhauled clerk heard I was growing a whole plot and gonna sell them he cut me a deal. I set out rows, drawing little lines and passing out clumps of seeds in rows. I covered them over and watered them down and waited.

Every day I'd stand to the side with my thumb over the hose letting the morning-cold water spray in a fan sprinkling down leaving little droplets in the dirt. Each morning, after I'd fed the chickens and watered the family garden and the flower garden, I'd stand there and watch and wait. For a week I watered and waited and hoped, looking at dirt. Then the weeds came up, little green leaves popping up through the surface and I kneeled down looking to see if some of them were growing in lines. I looked closely to see if some of those leaves were lettuce. Weeds, I figured, too early for anything but weeds but still I looked. And I waited. And hoped. And worried, wondering if something had maybe gone wrong. If all I'd see was fresh sprung weeds.

The weeds grew I still couldn't see any lines. I tried to connect the dots but could only see zigged zags and wild swirls and disorder growing and crowding out the dirt. I thought about it, squatting and looking every way, every angle, and wondering if maybe this could somehow still be my lettuce. Maybe my lettuce somehow slipped, sloshed out of line, and maybe somehow I'd only have to wait some more. But the weeds grew stronger, and harder, and wilder and I never saw any lettuce.

There was no moment of revelation, no point of realization, just the slow rehardening of the soil and spiraling out of the weeds, growing in prickles and twining vines and snarling in yellow grasses. There was no moment when I realized it'd failed, that the weeds had won, that the soil had swallowed the seeds and they'd rotted away. It was just a slow sinking, a silence as I said nothing, could say nothing against the weeds, and one day I just stopped watering.

One day I turned off the hose and stood up and just looked and admitted I'd failed.