Hawthorn Hill Journal: Getting Back to Home Soil

Hawthorn Hill Journal by Richard deRosa

Getting Back to Home Soil

Several days ago, a friend sent a picture of the hill from our deck. Prominent in the foreground is our vegetable garden. Despite its dormant state, it awakened many memories and hopes for the future. It also reminded me of how anxious I am to be home and get my hands into the very rich soil that I have nourished with organic materials so diligently over the years. Curious, isn’t it, how a picture like that can remind one of the profound significance of place, especially that place one calls home. We will have been away from home for four months by the time we get back. We have been away for long stretches of time before, but this time around we realized that at this time in our lives home is where we want to be, and where we need to be. So much of who we are stems from our relationship to this gently rolling hillside for almost 20 years.

My first thought when seeing the garden: Gotta get the peas in. An early spring ritual we gardeners look forward to. It is the first spring planting, the first opportunity to get one’s hands into that warming soil, a gesture of rebirth, a rekindling of the joy and practicality that comes with this ages-old practice, perhaps humankind’s most essential obligation to itself. What it is about cool soil that appeals to peas? I suspect a plant biologist would have a scientific explanation. I prefer to think it is a bit of pea bravado. There are personalities that have to be ahead of the game, beat the flock to the gate. The expression “pea brain” unfairly maligns the pea. After all, it knows itself better than anyone/thing else. Brain size correlates to need. Why waste space when there is no need? Cold weather crops have a practical function in that they get their jobs done early, thus making space for their less hardy compatriots. There is a wisdom in that.

Next on the list: onions and spinach. Some gardeners sow both in the fall but, despite giving it some thought from time to time, I have never gotten around to it. Part of it, I guess, is just habit. Habits are not all that bad, and while I cannot claim to have fewer eccentricities than the next guy, they fit me rather comfortably. Oddities of thought and habit are not strangers to me. Of that I am reminded quite often by those closest to me. All, however, have arisen quite naturally. Many of my gardening practices have evolved by trial and error. Others from years of observing others’ approaches and working them into my own system.

Looking at the picture again it occurs to me that this might be the year I actually plant things according to a preconceived design. Although, I doubt it. Once I get in there and start digging around, all preconceived notions dissipate. There is something about sticking to any design that rankles my aesthetic sense. Precision has always escaped me. Which is a good thing, since there are avocations for which calibration is essential and my life has been anything but calibrated. Over the years I have sat at my desk, pencil and ruler in hand, and organized the garden according to a specific scheme. All falls to the wayside once I get in the garden. I morph into some sort of free-wheeling seed sower. Of course, there are perils to this approach. Inevitably, the garden takes on the look of a tropical jungle and getting to some things almost invites the use of a machete. Organization has its uses, but over-organization tends to be a bit dispiriting. It is too confining, at least insofar as my gardening psyche is concerned. My aesthetic is simple—stick stuff in the ground wherever it fits or feels right. The garden, raised beds empty for now but amended last fall with compost and manure, will be in my head while we drive home this coming week. I am sure that multiple designs will come to mind. None, of course, will see the light of day.

I talked to a neighbor this morning who tells me that daffodils are everywhere. We cannot wait to drive up our hill through a gauntlet of hundreds of yellow and white daffodils lining both sides of the driveway.
Welcome home, they will say.

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