On a shelf in my kitchen is a plain white pitcher that used to belong to my husband’s grandmother Mary, a farm wife in Harvard, Nebraska during the Great Depression. In it I keep a handful of dirt that my sister brought me from my grandmother’s farming village in Huta Przedborska, Poland after visiting there several years ago. These ordinary items tied to the land and a simpler way of living are among my most prized possessions.
Like so many isolated people during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting outside and back to the earth has been my salvation. Since we moved away from Detroit and out into the country 15 years ago, I’ve devoted most of my outdoor time to growing flowers, but this year I decided to put in a vegetable garden.
Because we share our space with voracious deer and rabbits, I’ve become an expert at critter-resistant plants and natural deterrents – but keeping the wildlife away from the kitchen garden was going to require some help. I turned to Neil, a local handyman from Kentucky who helped several of my neighbors with their plots, surrounding them with sturdy posts and four-foot fencing.
My yard proved to be a challenge. It’s hilly and the ground is clay. Setting the posts was difficult and putting in raised beds that weren’t tilted at an angle was even more of a headache. I looked out of the kitchen window one afternoon to find Neil studying the area with a puzzled look. I wandered out and asked him what he was doing. “Seeking level ground,” he said.
The end result worked out beautifully. Neil’s beds are perfect and he even found some rusty trellises in another part of the yard and used two of them to give my garden gate a custom look. I spent most of the Independence Day weekend tending the tomatoes, cabbages, lettuce and melons, and nearly forgot about the canceled fireworks and parade. Call it feeling grounded – or at least more stable and calm in these uncertain times.
Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best in his poem Musketaquid, a reference to the rural area that became the town of Concord, Massachusetts and home to the New England Transcendentalists. He wrote: “All my hurts my garden-spade can heal.”
Top image: Grandma Rose’s village of Huta Przedborska in southern Poland.