Black Dirt

I miss good black dirt. Our house and the whole town, if not the state of Massachusetts, is built on ledge – which I define as big rocks. These make for spectacular cliffs but not great planting ground. Throughout town, big pieces of ledge have been blasted to make room for houses. A new house in our area sits six feet from a newly blasted rocky cliff. No backyard. Just a back rock.

We have rocky muckish colored dirt that’s filled with broken glass. Apparently our property was a dump for glass bottles years ago. We have a ridge of maple trees all around our property. The boys love climbing up the hill and hiding in the trees. But every spring before the leaves pop, I search the hill for glass brought to the surface by the spring thaw. Hours I spend picking up broken glass so it doesn’t end up in a little boy’s hand.

Two years ago I decided to create a small flower garden at the bottom of the ridge. I took a spade to my pathetic looking dirt and slowly turned it over. Revealing rocks and glass with every twist of the shovel. Occasionally striking a rock that would jar me to the core. Frequently murmuring, “This sucks.” After thirteen years at the same house in Illinois, I had an English country garden. It started as a hill in the backyard, and after mowing it for two seasons, I had a bigger vision. Instead of scalping it every time I mowed, I was going to plow it up. Mom and Dad gave me a tiller for my birthday and I put Bill to work, pushing the tiller and ripping up the sod. After I got the grass chunks killed off, I started planting. Anything I put in the ground grew in my sun-drenched rich soil. I kept a stone path through the flowers down the hill. When we left the house, the flowers were firmly established and more than waist-high. Glorious. And now, oh woe is me, I have four inches of mucky rock-filled, glass-filled, shade-filled pitiful dirt.

While I’m a little overwhelmed by my dirt and how to make it productive, my friend in town has created the most spectacular garden over the last fifteen years. Growing up in Michigan, I imagine she was used to good dirt as well, better than ledge anyway. Her garden was a paved drive when she bought her house. She had it jack-hammered out and then went about creating, encouraging and feeding the ground. The result is breathtaking. And she continuously nurtures her dirt, bringing in horse manure and collecting weekly droppings from a friend’s rabbit.

And as I bemoan my rock-filled earth, I’m having a vision of a clear Iowa cornfield ready for spring planting. And now a flashback: I know why there are no rocks in it. Growing up, Dad would pull a hay rack behind a tractor while Mom, Grandma Murphy, and us kids picked up rocks and chucked them on the rack. For years, freshly turned earth revealed new rocks that had to be removed before planting corn and beans.

So, I’m waiting for the boiling point when I just decide I need a flower garden. Deep down, I know where it’s going to be. We have a big barren piece of shady backyard. And for two or three years I’ve resisted seeding it. To me it needs to be landscaped. To Bill it needs grass. To me, I think it needs borders. Flower-filled borders. I believe we’ve been having a subconscious duel. I’m revving up the tiller and getting a lead on horse and rabbit poop. Ah, that will need to wait until spring; I don’t think my oncologist would want me playing in that right now.

Staying strong, but missing black dirt,