Summer House: Ch. 11


While we waited for the soil to dry enough that we could work it, I ordered seeds, picked up two barrels’ full of well-composted manure from a neighbor who kept goats, and filed for a permit for a stall at the Farmers’ Market. To ensure local produce and stimulate island economy, county voters had passed an ordinance allowing only residents or property-tax payers to sell at markets and fairs. Filling out the form, I smiled when, this year, I was able to check both boxes: tax-payer and year-round resident. I filled out my voter registration when I was at the county buildings, too.

Island resident. It had been a dream I hadn’t even let myself realize I’d had until now that it was fulfilled. I’d wanted it that badly, to belong here, not just in soul and spirit, but in citizenship, too. A voting member of the community, a merchant at the Farmers’ Market: with the soil of this island under my fingernails, I belong.

Elise used my computer to draw up intricate plans for the garden. Her biology class included a botany unit last year, and her research project had been crop rotation and integration.  She’d laid out a bed for micro-greens, a bed for kale, one for parsley and lettuce, one for edible flowers, and one for carrots. The north side of each bed was to hold a trellis for peas or beans. Zinnias, nasturtiums, cosmos, and bachelor’s buttons were to grow along the edges.

“It looks sound,” I told her.

“It’s very scientific,” she said.

Bernard was excited when, after a few days of sun, we got out the old shovels from tool shed. We had a child-sized one I remembered having used when I’d help my grandfather with the digging. The four of us dug together for about fifteen minutes, then Elise wandered inside for a glass of water, and Bernard ran in after her shortly after “to check the dogs’ water bowls.”

Sonya laughed. “City kids,” she said.

“But you’re not,” I observed.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I’m country.”

We fell silent again, scalping the sod, tossing it in a pile, digging down the depth of two shovel-blades, laying the sod back over, tossing on the next layer of soil, spreading a layer of manure, tossing on the next layer of soil, topping it off with another sprinkling of manure, raking it all in. It was a good few hours of work, punctuated now and then with stretching, looking out over the bay, squinting at the clouds coming from the horizon, sipping the water Elise carried out to us, and laughing when we caught sight of Bernard chasing the dogs through the obstacle course.

“He’s having such a summer,” Sonya said. “He loves dogs, and you know, we’ve never had them.”

It was evening when we finished: five beds double-dug and fertilized.

“This was good work,” I said. I went in to fix supper. Sonya cleaned the shovels and put away all the tools.

While I washed green beans at the kitchen sink, I saw her standing at the edge of the meadow, looking out over the bay. Sometimes, you can see a person’s feelings in the way the stand, catch a glimmer of their thoughts through the tilt of their head. I felt it all in a wave: Loneliness, abandonment, fear, and worry. But also, pride, strength, resilience, and hope. She came inside as I was chopping the carrots, and she smiled, a real smile that reached her eyes.

“I’m bone tired,” she said, “and it feels so good. So good. I will sleep tonight!”

The next morning, Sonya and I were up before the kids. Clouds hung heavy in the sky.

“We gotta get out there and plant!” she said.

“Won’t the kids mind we’re not waiting for them?” I asked.

“Early birds!” she shouted. “Naw, they won’t mind. Elise is more theoretical, and Bernard will just be happy to help when the harvest is ready.”

I laughed to see Sonya so excited.

A few hours later, after breaking for a morning meal and coffee, we strolled back out as the drizzle fell to survey our work.

“Timing’s perfect,” she said. “Let nature water the seeds.”

It smelled delicious out there, with the soil, the piles of mulch waiting alongside the beds, and the fresh light rain.

Sonya threw her arms out to the side and tilted her head up to the sky. The tiny drops clustered on her dark curly hair and pearled her thick black eyelashes. I joined her in the gesture, and the rain ran off my eyebrows.

“I never thought,” she said. “I never thought this summer, alone like this, without him, I would end up feeling so alive. So very alive!”

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