Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Snail Garden

Yesterday I walked out into the corn stubble behind my house with my wheelbarrow. I was after some rocks. In my mind they were as big and round as soccer balls. Many years ago we had walked out to the far corner of the field with friends, the kids, and a picnic lunch. Michael later talked about a pile of big rocks in that corner, but I only remembered the long walk across the newly harvested field under the October sun; the laughing, and eating bread and cheese and apples when we got to the very edge of the farm. We wore sweaters against the chill, but had shed them by the time we crossed.

I needed the rocks to construct a spiral herb garden. I wanted my own the moment I saw Nancy’s in Indy a few weeks ago. She had made a spiraling dome, four feet in diameter, and two feet high. Round stones made up the snail shape of the garden. She is waiting for spring to plant her herbs, but it is already lovely, a simple coil of stone and earth in her back yard. I asked for detailed instructions, and then demanded a photo. I don’t remember if I was such a copycat when we were kids (probably), and I hope she doesn’t mind it now.

As the sun was getting low-ish yesterday, I pulled the wheelbarrow out into the field behind the house. Ursula bounded ahead of me, thrilled to take a long walk off leash. Far to the east, by the meadow behind the woods, she noticed some tall dogs, some with spectacular crowns. They must be the kings of the pack. She barked in a friendly manner, and they gazed at us for a few minutes before declining our company, running into the woods with their white tails standing straight up like flags. We turned back west and I began to pick up rocks, dropping them into my wheelbarrow. I found a few the size of acorn squash, but most were like potatoes. I crossed the bean field and went into the rougher terrain of corn stubble. The wheelbarrow was getting heavy. I decided to stop picking them up until I got to the legendary pile in the corner. But then I would see rosy granite, like an apple half buried in the soil, and I couldn’t leave it. Suddenly I realized my load was heavy enough, and we turned back toward home. I dumped my rocks in the yard, and went to find a large piece of cardboard, about 3 foot square. I laid the cardboard on the grass and weighted the corners with the four largest stones. I put one in the center and began to make a circle, placing the best stones like the numbers on the face of a clock. I filled in the border with the potato rocks until I had most of a circle, and then spread mulch over the cardboard.

Now the sun was sinking; did I have time for one more quick trip? I would take the empty wheelbarrow to the corner of the field. I hurried across to the hedgerow, and got sidetracked a little while with the hedge apples—lovely, yellow-green, Osage Oranges with a sharp, citrus-y odor. I tossed a few in the wheelbarrow and turned west again. Now the sun had dipped below the tree line at the far edge of the field, making silhouettes of Jim’s barn and house, and the row of trees that borders our neighbor’s field. Now the sky was banded all around with lavender and aqua, even to the east. I found a stony loaf of pumpernickel and lifted it into my wheelbarrow, which I pulled along the edge of the field, loading it further despite myself. Finally it was too heavy to pull, and I left it on a little hill, determined to cross to the corner before dusk. The sun dipped lower and the air was suddenly chilly. I walked faster, and Ursula loped along at my side. I made it to the little meadow at the corner. It was bordered by a hedgerow and the back fence. A couple of dry gullies cut into it. No stones, but a pile of broken tiles under a tree, and a pile of concrete rubble under another. I stood for a moment in the corner, gazing back towards my house. It had dipped behind a rise, and I couldn’t see it from here. I could be a million miles away. I thought about the ghosts of that long ago afternoon visit. I sniffed the air, and then turned back toward my wheelbarrow and made my way home through the gathering twilight.

Gather Beauty; Assemble Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in issues of social justice and ecology.

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