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Living in the garden

Paul Andersen

My pitchfork sinks into the deep, soft dirt. The weight of my foot presses it to the hilt in an annual rite of spring that brings a special kind of yeoman pleasure. Here in my garden I find the homey essence of rural life.

My garden is full of weeds and shows signs of serious neglect. As I make my annual resolve to do better this year in tending my little patch of earth, I gaze around me at the greater garden in which we live. I take pleasure knowing that nature is a far better gardener than I will ever be.

When the first green mist of leaves covers the cottonwoods in the valley below my house, the snow has yet to fade from mountain slopes. The greenness of new life displays itself dramatically against the white backdrop of yesterday’s winter.



My senses respond to perfumed fragrances wafting from flowering fruit trees, from the sounds of spring and the nuances of color. In a cow pasture, I notice a perfectly formed apple tree. The branches are flocked with white blooms, and the cows have trimmed the bottommost branches to a uniform level that an experienced tree trimmer would find challenging.

Gradually, the cottonwoods in the Fryingpan Valley turn a deeper shade of green. Then comes the emergent foliage of the oaks, whose lime brilliance is like a veil that gradually covers the underbrush and then hides it altogether.




On the mountainside across the valley from my house, the greenness spreads as if a watercolor artist has applied a wide, wet brush to paper, adding living color to a pencil sketch. The mountain comes alive and the valley effuses an emerald aura.

With the spreading green, the mountains and valleys take on a soft, billowing texture and the natural world beckons with bird song and the buzzing of insects. My cherry tree lights up with blooms that harbor honeybees and hummingbird moths. Busy insects share the sweetness of the pollen and join in the duty of pollination, taking sustenance and producing life.

The mountain slopes gradually take on a whitish hue as serviceberry and chokecherry bushes bloom. The serviceberries appear to be covered with popcorn and the chokecherry blooms dangle long and white, a preview of the fruit that will weigh down their limbs in the ripening heat of summer.

I pay particular attention to the oaks, hoping they produce a bumper crop of acorns. This excellent source of protein is important to hungry bears, but they are also delicious when eaten fresh, their tender meat soft and chewy and sweet.

This year, all of nature seems to be in a hurry to produce. Within a week of the last snow the grass seemed to have grown a foot, trees sprouted leaves and bloomed, flowers exploded with unfolding petals, dandelions produced a gaudy yellow carpet. The life cycle is revving up to meet the sun at its summer zenith.

At first light, I am awakened by bird song. Chirps and trills float through my open window in a symphony of delight that guarantees a pleasant mood at the start of day. I step outside in the cool of morning and am struck by the scent of lilacs whose blooms are neon purple in the slanting sun at dawn.

I stand beneath the crabapple trees and feel the vibration of insects as they float from flower to flower. The sound of countless individuals becomes the uniform drone of an eclectic community. Here is the electric hum that brings new life into the world.

A hatch rises off the river and in the cooling dusk flies bombard our picnic table during dinner. We pluck them off our plates and out of our hair. Their vibrancy is something to celebrate. Then comes a whirl of flycatchers and darting swifts, which flit through our budding Russian olives and sup on the flies. Bon appetite!

In my garden, I turn over a spadeful of dirt and expose a big, juicy worm that wriggles quickly back into the cool, dark soil. “Howdy, Mister Worm,” I say, and continue turning the soil until my garden is black and fecund and ultimately promising, a mirror of the natural world.

Paul Andersen really digs the earth. His column appears on Mondays.