By Pamela Noel
Special to Plumas News
I walked behind my papa, one overall strap dangling down my back, out of reach of the hand that would fasten it. I carried my little shovel and rake across my shoulders, readying myself to help with the planting of our vegetable garden. Papa wore an old pair of gray flannel trousers. In his pocket were the seeds we would put in the ground that morning.
Making our way to the far side of the garden, he put a wooden stake into the soil, attaching an end of string…then handing me the roll, and asking me to walk to the other side, so that a straight white line spanned the width of the garden. That is so the lines of seeds can be straight he told me. Showing me how to insert the rake at an angle into the soil, he instructed me to pull it across the garden, staying along the line of the string. Into this channel he showed me how to drop the bean seeds into this indentation. Then drawing the rake gently over the seeds, he pulled the soil into the trench. Tamping the soil down over the seeds, he told me they would be cozy in the soil. A light sprinkle and we were on to the next project of squash mounds.
Often, he would interrupt the actual project, asking me to pick up a handful of soil, rub it between my hands, and smell it. He told me that this was the smell of magic…the magic of leaves and grass, and other vegetative matter that had transformed into soil. And the magic would continue…to coax the seeds to open and sprout towards the warmth of the sun.
And that garden did seem magical to a shiny-haired seven-year old, hiding out amongst the rows and mounds of vegetables. It would become a maze of hidden wonder, growing ever taller throughout the summer. I lived in this garden, a child of sensation, sniffing and touching and chewing most of what grew there. I would lie amongst the beans and the corn, letting the sun dapple shine on my face, listening to the bees visiting the flowers that were part of his garden—marigolds, zinnias, and snapdragons.
It is this memory that awakens every visit to my garden now. I am digging the last of the red potatoes and garlic. I cut the final harvest of sorrel, parsley, and oregano. Putting away my present garden for the winter, my scent memories take me back to that early one of my childhood. I can almost hear my papa whispering over my shoulder to take the spent tomatoes and squash to the compost pit, where the magic will start to happen. He would tell me to leave the soil in big clumps, letting the winter waters break it down for spring planting. He would instruct me to collect some of the seeding flowers and vegetables, label them in wax paper bags, so they could be planted early in the spring warmth of a southern facing window.
I am understanding the draw of the garden, especially as I become older. Something about that early imprinted experience seems to be coming to fruition in me…almost as if my papa’s footsteps and mine are becoming one. The garden is where we still meet. The garden is where the magic continues to happen.