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A Moment in the Garden

Liz Lerner

Every spring I make my annual trip down to the bay shore to gather marsh grass for mulching our garden. There are many places in Wellfleet that are good for gathering the marsh grass, but I have a particular spot where it lies in thick, discreet bundles, almost as if the storm tides had deposited them to make it easy for me to harvest them. Part of the pleasure I get from doing this is knowing that in Boston they sell marsh grass for up to $30 a bale.

This year it took me only twenty minutes to fill the rear compartment of my CRV up to the windows. I drove home and unloaded the grass, then wheelbarrowed it down the slope to our three staggered south-facing raised beds.

Chum was on a Zoom meeting, but she stopped when I came inside. “Oh, thank goodness, “she said. “I can only take so much of this.”

After lunch we went outside to begin preparing the garden, spreading loam and compost on the top bed and around the pea trellis on the middle bed. I am always amazed at how our organic waste – egg shells, orange and banana peels, asparagus stems, apple cores, moldy bread, and all sorts of unidentifiable leftovers from the back of the refrigerator - transforms itself into deep, rich, black fertilizer after lying fallow for only a year. Actually, “lying fallow” is a misnomer, for it implies a lack of activity, when, in fact, if I lift up a pitchfork of seasoned compost, a bustling city of earthworms is revealed, constant tireless workers ingesting and excreting our waste, turning it into black gold.

We must have worked for about an hour before we decided to take a break, and when we did we found ourselves in A Moment. “A Moment” is one of those magical, unanticipatable instances of awareness and connection with your surroundings that often come after you have been doing physical labor that you enjoy. The westering sun casts multiple angles of shadows and shade down the slope of the garden to the boules court, and from there down to the vernal pool where the peepers sing their songs like thousands of bubbles. Quiet squadrons of honey bees graze over the stands of white heather, and newly-minted goldfinches swing in arcs from the oak tree in our yard up to the bird feeder hanging under the house eave.

Chum expressed surprise at how much she enjoyed working in the garden this year. “I think it has something to do with working at home,” she said, “being here all the time, not going into the office and then coming home, but just being able to walk out the door after doing work inside the house and then just sinking into the garden.”

Yes, sinking is the right word. There is something deeply and immensely satisfying about working the soil, tilling the beds, putting in the seeds and the sprouts, blanketing the bed with mulch – then watching things grow where you planted them, anticipating the harvest to come – watering, weeding, surrounded by the quietly deafening blanket of frog and bird song, bathed in the light of the late afternoon sun, like contrasting chords of silent music.

I left Chum to resume her favorite garden activity, weeding (“I’d do this for anybody’s garden” she says – “for free!”). I took a cleansing outdoor shower, and at 5:30 we shared a Zoom “cocktail hour” with our friends Gary, Robin, Katy and Jim, sharing our experiences in our respective socially-distant gardens.

A nature writer living in Wellfleet, Robert Finch has written about Cape Cod for more than forty years. He is the author of nine books of essays. A Cape Cod Notebook airs weekly on WCAI, the NPR station for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the South Coast. In both 2006 and 2013, the series won the New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.