The 10-year-old, Suzanne, is on a class field trip tonight with Daddy along as one of the parent chaperones. Daddy was her choice, one that I was quietly happy about (sleeping in a bunkhouse with 60 or so rambunctious 10-year-olds is not my idea of "restful" and I am a person who needs her sleep). But I regretted not going when I heard from my husband: he reported that Suzanne was having a blast, and that the place where they were (a farm) featured laying hens, a creek where the kids caught a catfish, cows to milk and a whole bunch of other things that made me nostalgic for my grandpa's old place. My husband also reported that there were a bunch of moms along--not surprisingly, moms outnumbered dads--and that, of these moms, not one appeared to have the slightest knowledge of life in the country. They recoiled at the sight of mud. They didn't want to let the kids out of sight for a second--fearful, perhaps, of an ax murderer lurking in the hayloft. One of them got slightly hysterical at the sight of a granddaddy longlegs.
I am not Nature Girl by any means, but I do get outdoors once in a while, and yesterday, I took the girls with me down to the end of the block to the neighborhood park, where we planted bulbs near the park sign. I didn't notice this, but we had been at work only about five or 10 minutes when the girls reported that cars were rounding the corner and slowing down, and that people were looking at us. I was too busy digging to pay much attention, but they said it happened five or six times. Apparently, the sight of somebody with a gardening trowel was enough to almost stop traffic. This morning at the bus stop, Rebecca reported, one of the kids said, "Did you see those people yesterday down at the pond digging in the dirt?" Wisely, perhaps, Rebecca did not cop to her own participation. "Weird," she agreed.
When we bought our house in this neighborhood, the front yard was a barren sea of mulch; the previous owner was apparently allergic to living things, and except for a tiny patch of grass, the whole front area was smothered under ground cover and mulch. (She also had a truly formidable collection of pesticides in the garage; I was worried for a while that we had just purchased an EPA Superfund site.) I've seen Chick Fil-As with nicer landscaping than the front yard she left us, and since then it has been my mission in life to create a garden out of this barren wasteland. (It's coming along nicely, thank you.) This was how, a few months after we moved in, I was out by the driveway, digging up some roots and amending the soil so I could eventually plant something. The boy next door came over and stared at me curiously. Finally he said, "Is it Earth Day or something?" "Every day is Earth Day around here!" I replied jauntily, hoping he'd stay and talk, but he just said "Oh," and wandered back home, looking mystified.
The older I get, the more drawn I am to plant things; it's as if there's a cosmic clock inside me that says You are not immortal, you know. When I am gone, I want some trees, some flowers, some array of living things to testify to the fact that I was here; increasingly, I feel the need to put living things in the soil and coax them up into the sun. And I realize I do not know anywhere near what I need to know--so when I met Jessie, an older lady at my church who was responsible for the lovely garden in the courtyard, I immediately appointed myself as her apprentice. I need to learn at least some of what she knows, because somehow I feel that this kind of knowledge is disappearing. How do you prune a bush? When's the best time to plant ivy? Why won't my phlox bloom? Why aren't there as many monarch butterflies this year as there were last year? How long can a magnolia withstand a drought? Is there such a thing as a tomato that tastes like a tomato anymore?
It's bad enough to contemplate my own ignorance, but the kids' ignorance staggers me. In three generations we have gone from being people who at least remembered what farming and gardening was about, to people like me who realized how much they didn't know, to a generation who thinks digging in the dirt on a gorgeous fall day is just...weird. This kid would probably think it was totally normal for a grown woman to get freaked out at the sight of a harmless granddaddy longlegs.
Anyway, I am doing what I can--planting seeds in my kids and maybe a few of their friends, willing to be that Weird White Lady in the neighborhood, hoping that down the road something will sprout. I'm proof that it can. When I was a kid, you had to practically put a pistol to my head to get me to pick up a hoe. But obviously something took root, because here I am all these years later, planting things.