I wrote this last fall after talking to Janet on the phone; it seemed as if, after years of adamant refusal, she was preparing herself to leave us. Because I had never been to her house, she sat in her kitchen looking out the window and told me what she saw, bringing me into that room with her.
I first got to know her online; she took a creative writing course I was teaching. Her sister and her daughter, Diana, took the course at the same time and I came to realize what a powerful trio of women I had in my virtual classroom. Later I got to know Janet in person as she came to Smithers to help Diana with infant twins. In spite of her own struggles with illness, her presence was wonderfully positive – and fun! She was, I believe, determined to make herself part of those boys’ lives in a way that would take root and grow as they did. What lucky kids!
Janet, my fingers are cold, the tips stained from making applesauce. There’s dirt under the nails. Yesterday an inch of snow, today the air is moist and warm as if someone piled a load of damp sheets into a nearby dryer and turned it on. I try not to feel the urgency this time of year brings with it and clean out the weeds around a few spinach plants, plucked low, some leaves still green and crinkled. I dig in some compost and old horse manure, flick away the fox scat left perched on the mint leaves poking in from the sidelines.
The garden’s dark and dirty heart is emerging from under the cover of carrots and beets and chard and cabbage. I leave the kale for the deer, wondering as I always do this time of year when there is so much food stuffed in the fridge, in the freezer, in the cool room, in the jars lined up underneath the bed, why on earth I planted it. Beyond the garden’s contours, the fireweed, nettle and cow parsnip lie down in their own dramatic death dance, the nettle still carrying a sting.
So I hoe back two shallow gullies and bend to plant Mr. Fothergill’s Emilia F1 spinach, each seed a couple of inches apart, feeling, as always as if this is the most ridiculous act of faith – even though every year the spinach and the carrots and the beets and the peas prove more worthy of my faith than any god I’ve heard tell of. The pea pods may not always swell, or the carrots fatten, but what they do give feeds my friends and family and doesn’t smite us with war and plagues and affliction. They just go about their sturdy business as best they can down here in the canyon where everything takes its time and for some things, that time is never.
The hoe covers the wrinkled promises and I tamp down the rows, covering them with mesh to keep the cat from digging there. In a couple of weeks, a layer of straw. And then I’ll forget about them as I always do. Three feet of snow hanging around until mid-April some years.
Then bingo. Garlic shoots and rumpled spinach green in all that dark dirt. Sandhill cranes, thousands of them, overhead. Harlequins riding the returning creek and juncos under the feeder.
Where in all of that returning light and sound will you be? Quiet in the sun still slanting in your window? Quiet in the memories of grandchildren too young to bear you consciously? Oh, you’ll be there, don’t worry. You’ve been planted deep, like those spinach seeds, already unfurling into a kind of green life that will nourish them, make them strong. You’ll be there.