It starts innocently enough.
After collecting the eggs and closing up the chickens' night door, I call the pup from chasing a bird around the hen pen and walk towards the house. I pick up a downed branch and change directions, heading to the fire pit to deposit the burnable. I spy my favourite shovel lying on the ground, the ash on it evidencing its use for cleaning the pit (wrong use!). As I lean it against the shed, there is a pile of bags of black earth.
This reminds me of the gardens so, from the shed, the dog at my heels, I stroll to the flower beds.
All I see are dead and rotting leaves and brittle, empty stems that poked through the snow. Ah, yes, I always give up in November, the cold and the dark and the sheer volume of leaves on a property surrounded by maple and birch trees. Winter arrives to cover my mess, to mask my guilt for not preparing better.
Crouching down, I start pulling away the leaves, feeling the cool, thick soil jamming under my fingernails.
I'd forgotten how good it feels to do this, get dirt under the nails; reminds me of the satisfaction of weeding.
The earth smells ready for spring, ready for the buds already pushing through to the light, the air, the sunshine, the threat of frost next week, next month. This is Nova Scotia, after all.
Three flower beds, random cleaning, piles of mess strewn behind me.
The sun hasn't set yet; there are many minutes left in this day. I pull my fleece collar tighter around a throat still recovering from laryngitis and that's when it happens: I decide to get the rake. This is the commitment to garden, this is starting on April 15 to work. I feel the excitement. How good it feels to start again, to seek and find, to imagine and create. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Opening the garden shed door, swollen tight with winter, elicits a flurry of scurry inside. I admit it: I shriek. I start to run but realize, it's just squirrels. Two big, fat, red squirrels who have been living in this shed all winter. Their nests are up in the corner, hitched to the top of the huge deck umbrella we won't be able to use again, hitched, too, I think, to a shovel. Good real estate. Are they subletting? Sitting on the shelves, they don't say anything, surprising since they chatter endlessly from the trees when the dogs and cats appear, but they scurry up and over shelves and window ledges while I try to wedge the rake I prefer out of the rafters. I'm wrangling the rake at the same time I'm trying to block the squirrels from dashing out the shed door because the dog is just outside, listening, tensing, and I don't want her to chase them. My greatest fear is the great chase across the road...
But it turns out, the squirrels have chewed a hole through the paper and barn boards above the door and that's where they're trying to go. I stand outside, rake in hand, and we stare at each other, the squirrel's head poking out the hole -- a hole in my beloved garden shed -- then I decide I'd rather be gardening and turn away to leave the squirrels to their business. Their rental properties and property management meetings and maintenance logs.
And this is how it starts: a cool, damp evening in April, I smell the earth and see the daffodil leaves poking through and the round cabbage-like sedum buds and the old hair of the lilies and I remember. The hard work, the sore shoulders, the broken back, the split fingernails, the dirty knees. Lugging rocks and wheelbarrowing soil and lugging watering cans. All this manual labour when wild flowers grow freely in the field behind the house.
So I rake. Because I remember how much I love this.
And it's only April 15. I redeem myself from November's neglect. See? Hope springs eternal. Always redemption for the lazy gardener.