Sometimes, it’s the tiny, shiny things.
Winter is upon us here in Wisconsin.
This morning we had an inch on the ground (more on the steps, because it didn’t melt for as long) with two more on the way.
Verily it is told by the god of the yellow sign that Bridge Freezes Before Road.
Yesterday I made a huge push to get my garden cleanup done before last night’s predicted snow. I had to pull all the bricks and stones we use to edge the flowerbeds and put them in the backyard so we can mow next year. I also had to dig everything over, and plant whatever garlic and bulbs I wanted to see next spring.
Sometimes, gardening is tedium. Sometimes it’s joy.
I spent about 6 hours (I had the afternoon off work because of an appointment) digging, raking, scraping, lifting, carrying. I cleared all the older growth off, worked the soil, added dirt some places, took it away in others, broke it up everywhere.
I planted four heads of garlic, three dozen crocuses, a bunch of allium and daffodils and a couple other kinds of bulbs.
I was raking by lamplight at 7pm. I covered all the beds and uncovered the grass. I worked very hard, and in different ways than I do at the gym. I’m quite sore today.
It was worth it. Come March, crocuses will poke through the snow; come April, daffodils, and later tulips. May will bring the new freesia, if I understand their blooming cycle, and the strawberry flowers; if it’s warmish we can put tomatoes in then too. The new allium should start in June when the tulips are ending, and the daisies and bee balm when it gets warmer.
In early July we’ll cut the garlic scapes, plant beans and squash, and look back at the brown eyed Susans and the bursting symphony of daylilies and echinacea. August brings wildflowers, milkweed and chicory and Queen Anne’s lace, in the neighborhood gardens if not mine, and the tomatoes. September has food: more tomatoes, greens, beans and squash, then later the mums and those red and yellow perennials that grow in the front whose I can’t remember.
I should have color enough to delight my eye, spring to fall. Food too.
The yucca my neighbors gave me and I can’t get rid of until they die might also bloom again next summer, but you can’t have everything.
But this is fall.
And fall is the time of endings, wilted tomato plants and dark broken stakes, if you used wood. There’s something about it that’s hard: you have to admit all the things you didn’t finish, confront your failed intentions, confess your sins to the silent earth. That planter that went unfilled remains unfilled, and you never did get those lantana seeds to grow, and this year’s over.
Better luck next year.
Whenever you’re in the garden there are some triumphs: in yesterday’s cleanup I found carrots I’d forgotten we planted (we’re having them for dinner), and some bok choi ends for the chickens, and this very shiny bean and its cousins:
One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen is a black bean peeking out of its hard yellow pod in the streetlight and the light of November’s dying sun.
Imagine: Snow is coming, you can smell it, and it’s time to dig the whole garden, just pull it all up and hide things in it. Some ancient instinct from your Scandinavian ancestors demands you prepare for winter.
You feel the dirt under your nails, and your fingers are numb enough you can’t tell them from stones or the bulbs you’re planting. The dirt is not frozen yet, but it will be, and you have to put the bulbs where they can sleep through the cold if you want flowers next year.
You’re digging with your freezing fingers and you find this weird pod in the soil, so you open it. And suddenly there’s the blackest shiny thing you’ve seen, this bean, small and perfect and new. It’s been waiting here for you.
I have to notice tiny beauty.
Seeing the bean yesterday reminded me of last month, about a week before Halloween. I was walking down the street, and I saw a flash of color on the ground.
I thought it was skittles. Lots of places in Madison, Wisconsin start giving Halloween candy early, and lots of kids (and college students!) eat while they walk and spew candy and wrappers in all directions.
It wasn’t candy. It was wet, but not cold yet, and that color was half a string of beads stuck in the crack of the sidewalk. I don’t know how they got there. I couldn’t get them out. I had left my phone at home, so there’s no picture, and there’s been no sunshine since then so I haven’t looked back to see if they’re still there.
But it was something, seeing those beads that day. It was a gift. I got a little present from the universe, because of paying attention.
They were unexpected, and beautiful, and no one else had noticed them.
Just like the beans, they were shiny, and right that minute only I knew.
I’m so lucky.