The Psychology of Dirt

Here, there is a dense quiet, surrounded as I am

By the sheer gravity of growing things–as if enfolded

By some gently closed hand.

The gray nuthatch scolds me for my presence too near the feeder,

Swinging from her branch, her crisply raucous monotone backing

The towee, cardinal, and woodthrush, bluebirds, wrens, and sparrows.

The forest echoes with the hammerfalls of giant crested woodpeckers

Busy at their work

And preening in the first light of an Eastern sun,

A redtailed hawk contemplates the prospect of breaking her fast.


I sit back on my heels in the long, dew-swimming grass

Shoving my trowel deep into the rich soil–it is dark and thick as fudge

Made by decades of composting, manure, and a vegetable patch that’s gone now.

Even what came after it, a garden of Old Roses–sweet-smelling and simple–

And day lilies, has largely gone back to the earth.


My eyes travel around the garden almost shocked by the abundant luxury

Of plant life.  I see the ghost of underlying form–hedges grown tortuous

With Virginia Creeper, honey suckle, and poison ivy; rose trees gone

To thorns and dead wood, but still bravely blooming against all expectation;

The gentle liquid curves of borders blurred by relentless grasses.


For all this, I can still discern the original loveliness of the form.

Gentle lines of plantings lead the eye ever further into the garden,

A pleasing conversation of color and size, a stretching and mounded abundance

Of beloved things, never meant to be much managed.

The heavy air makes the early sun

A cascade of hot honey, spiced with the scent of moist earth and a hundred nearby blooms.

Sweat pours over my skin, a benediction of sorts, spilling from me and caught by sunlight

A glittering, sacred alphabet that is echoed in the living soil

And the placid gazes of two rabbits grazing thoughtfully close at hand.

I feel the bone deep restfulness of work, pleasure in the motion of my body through space.


This is the psychology of dirt.



So, in the attempt to keep Mom moving and get her reinvested in her garden, I foolishly offered to be the muscle behind the operation.  Today was Day 4.  I may have died sometime around 10:30, and simply failed to act accordingly.  But while it’s definitely putting me through my paces, there’s a peacefulness about this sort of work.  Naturally, this is gardening on a scope I’ve never before attempted, mostly because that’s kind of insane–and also, Mom took nearly 20 years to build what’s here now.  Then, she turned her face away from it for the past six years.  It’s massive, and there are so many different beds, plantings, areas that desperately need attention, so yes, it’s going to take all summer just to get it in shape.  To wit, I’ve sectioned it up into project areas–just weeding and pruning will likely take at least 45 days.


2 thoughts on “The Psychology of Dirt

  1. Thanks. Your words capture the sense of the neglected garden and the challenge of rebuilding very well. I hope your mom will appreciate your effort and I hope you enjoy the process, hard work and all. Best wishes!

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