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Written by Kim Ogren, BT Contributor   
June 2020

Soul searching through soil

“The sea is the cradle we all rocked out of, but it’s to dust that we go. From the time that water invented us, we began to seek out dirt. The further we separate ourselves from the dirt, the further we separate ourselves from ourselves. Alienation is a disease of the unsoiled.”

-- Tom Robbins

Another Roadside Attraction


I bigstock-Gardener-Woman-Planting-Flower-293946754stood at the edge of a barren half of my front yard. My wide-brimmed hat was the kind with the drawstring under the chin. The cotton fabric of my white, loose, button-down shirt was as thin as my 40-year-old sheets. I wore wide-legged, loose-fitting capri pants, gauchos really, the kind I would normally wear as part of a swimsuit cover-up outfit for when I step into a beachside bar or run by the grocery store before boating.

Above the ankle, I was ready for a day in the sun. It was 6:00 a.m. I had on an old pair of running shoes whose soles were too worn for protecting my fragile knees from pavement pounding but would keep me sturdy for the job ahead.

I was 25 feet above sea level, near the top of what was originally a fill pad for the canals dredged in the neighborhood adjacent to mine. The shovel I stood with came from the wooden shed in the backyard. That shovel had been used for good deeds for decades, from digging up cactus deemed too dangerous for my tender toddler feet to burying the family dog.

I awkwardly dragged the hose, which was connected to a second. We are the same age. I wrestled to keep the kinks and old spirals ironed out. Dad, as with all his possessions, kept good care of these hoses. They had been hanging off a rafter in the shed from line he had cut to the appropriate size and tips he’d melted so they wouldn’t fray. A sailor’s knot was used to hoist the hoses into the air right at eye level.

Unfortunately, none of the men’s work gloves in the old milk crate would afford me the dexterity I imagined I would need. The garden center dangled a pair I recalled from the 1970s. They had tacky patterns but cost only $5.

My record with plant care is abysmal. I can take down a hardy houseplant in a week. In recent years, I have killed three native, drought-tolerant yaupon hollies. My dear friend Linda, an exceptional landscape designer, did an amazing job in this yard seven years ago. The oaks, magnolias, coonties were all doing well, but anything that flowered was lost long ago due to neglect. She politely passed on the opportunity to help me a second time.

Determined, I filled the car with butterfly plants from a local nursery. They turned out to be non-native. To make up for that partial misstep, another dear friend, Debbie, whose enviable yards are chock-full of native everything, generously provided another carload of plants. Following her through her narrow paths between shrubs, trees, bushes, flowers, and grasses, I knew I was stepping into the unknown. I knew better than to try to remember everything she was telling me. Instead, to let the wisdom wash over me.

Hinging from the hips, I dug the first few shovelfuls of sandy soil, heaving the small mounds next to those white shoes. My SI joint hollered. I threw the shovel to the ground, grabbed the spade, and popped a squat -- malasana, as the yogis call it. I cut through the roots left by the pines of yesteryear.

Just out of reach were the hose, a bag of topsoil, the plant I would transfer, and a handful of the 10,000 pounds of mulch I had secured from a neighbor’s endeavor to kill the planet by removing all of his trees. Down went my knees, and I crawled here and there to gather the materials essential for the next steps. I ended up on my butt. I kept digging, but now with my hands, stirring in a little topsoil to mix with the sand soil. I tried to pull my long hair behind my ear, but it was no use. Every crease of me was now covered in soil.

Yes, it’s the perfect time to begin gardening. As with most things these days, expectations are pretty low. But with this, rewards are promising. The minute I mixed the topsoil with the sand and mulch, a feeling came over me, a new awareness that I was actively nourishing the environment. The plant. And myself.

Soil health and gut health are not dissimilar. Both have biomes and delicate chemistries. A week into gardening, and I’m settling into that which is purposeful and ought to be sustained. Something for which all souls search.

 

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