I look forward to getting out into the garden each spring. I've never been able to define why or where the pull comes between Mother Earth and me - until this year. And it's about more than dirtying my hands in her soil.
Last week, I was outside in one of my gardens, pulling the weeds that always seem to trump the wanted plants at this time of year. (Or anytime, for that matter.) After pulling a very long and very satisfying taproot, the truth hit me. I felt happy. And in that moment, I finally knew why.
Gardening makes me feel strong.
And I love that.
I don't consider myself a weak person in any aspect of life. But I'm not necessarily strong, either. I certainly don't possess the biggest muscle mass or strength factor within my family. In that regard, I am near the bottom. Heck, I am at the bottom.
But not when it comes to gardening. There, I wield power. I am strong. Not only strong, but the strongest, with an emphasis on the "est." Considering all the guys I live with, that's saying something.
When I garden, I move earth. I nurture plants and pull weeds. I fertilize. I make life and death decisions; I decide which plants will flourish where. That's fairly powerful. Minus the fairly.
I grab the shovel from the garage. The wooden handle feels solid and comfortable in my grip. It is smooth from years of use. I plunge the blade into the earth and pull forth dirt with the prowess of a garden pro. I sift it through my hands to remove the wheat from the chaff - or in this case, weeds from the dirt. I see the earthworms and am glad for their presence. Slugs - not so much. They are relegated to the slug pile.
Confidence exudes from my dirty fingernails. It is simple business, but it is important, especially if you are a plant or a slug.
I fill the wheelbarrow with heaps and pounds of weeds and cart them to the mulch pile, dumping the refuse with a bold determination of a woman who knows how to handle a wheelbarrow and looks forward to harvesting asparagus later this week and raspberries later this summer.
I work carefully around the iris rhizomes and the oriental lilies emerging from the soil. I point them out to my husband. He thinks the lilies look like asparagus. He isn't wrong. We look on Wiki and, indeed, asparagus was once classified in the lily family, but that has since changed and now has its own classification. (What did we do before the internet?)
The sun is shining and I appreciate the warmth. Later that evening, I will be reminded of the sun again, as I look in the mirror and see tan lines on my shoulders and arms. A farmer's tan - the best kind there is.
When we are in the garden, my husband and sons, who are stronger than me in most of the ways we normally measure strength, look to me for direction. Pull this. Plant that. Not here. Over there.
I provide guidance and supervision when they trim trees or scatter mulch. They follow my lead. Listen to the details as I describe them. It feels good. It feels powerful and there's nothing wrong with that.
I am the CEO of the garden and I kind of like it that way - in the garden, in the spring, with my shovel in hand and dirt under my fingernails.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.