How Does Your Garden Grow?7:30 AM
The window in the little first floor bathroom looks out onto the field. There's a sticky note stuck on the blinds: Keep blinds open for plant. The dying plant stands in the corner next to it. If you want to look out on the front yard, to spy for late visitors or strain to see the ski show miles down the river, you climb the stairs to the bonus room and its many-eyed walls. If you want to look at the woods, at the mother fox and her pups, at the sandhill cranes strutting through the grass, at the deer passing through in the mist, you go to this window. I'm looking for my sister Bethany this morning.
She's out there, bun wound in back of her head in morning perfection, crisscrossed in a strange ladylike pretzel in between the pole beans and bush beans. She's getting half-moons of dirt up her fingernails, and that's what I was looking for.
"Good morning," I say when I step over the dog, who is lazy and panting in the shade by the trash cans, where he belongs. He is happy this morning.
"Good morning," I say when I hike my skirt up over the square of plywood we call a garden gate. "I hope you're not stealing my weeds."
"Good morning," she says, not bothering to look up. When you're as close as sisters, it's redundant to make a fuss about hellos. It's like greeting yourself. And nobody does that unless she's standing in front of a mirror and in a particularly vain mood and probably sleep-deprived.
I walk myself through the process of sitting down. The paths run every-which-way in the garden, lasagna layered with plain old dirt, horse manure, the Leader and grass clippings. Definitely something you would not go barefoot in, something you would not sit down in. I do both. "It's such a beautiful day outside. I should put on sunscreen. This hay is disgusting. This hay is itchy. The worst thing about gardening is getting dirt up your fingernails." (I'm in my own unladylike pretzel between the onions and squash.)
"Especially when you've got nail polish on -- glittery pink and dirt. Ugh."
(She's wearing green fingernail polish and I would be wearing blue, except I got tired of it after a month. My mother says painting one's nails is a surefire way of being happy. I tried it, and got mixed results.)
"I really should put sunscreen on." A pause. "I'm going to go put sunscreen on."
I walk back out glistening in 45 SPF lotion and balancing a blue-green bucket hat precariously on my head. "How do you like my hat?"
"Oh, lovely," and the four hundred and fifty-millionth thing I love about sisters is that you can weed the garden in a dorky hat and never have a nip of self-consciousness. We talk about what she's going to do today -- because she's going to have to find a new project after cutting up and sewing back together six-year-old boys' ripped jeans into a skirt she's now dirtying.
I'm looking at my own stripes of dirt up my jean skirt, feeling the itchy path beneath my brown callouses, pausing every now and then to swipe at the sunburn on my arm. A moment later, she says it's hot. I don't think so. When you've gone through winter hating every new snowfall, you cannot complain about the heat. Besides, it isn't hot. It's warm, like waking up in morning sunlight and a big comforter when the air conditioning fails, like fresh-out-of-the-oven-yet-slightly-cooled warm. Like picking weeds out of earth weather.
She finds a crisp, dead caterpillar. She thinks it's sad. I say it's disgusting. I think about the difference.
In the beating sun, she's already weeded several rows and I'm still picking sprigs of green out of the crust. The weather shifts. It's cooler, calmer, darker. I note, "This is perfect."
"I felt a rain drop."
One plops on my left arm.
"It's not going to rain," I say.
One plops on my right arm.
While the rain waters my blue-green bucket hat, she says she's going inside. I say I'm going to finish weeding so I don't have to come back out and weed in the mud.
"Who weeds in the mud?" she wants to know.
That's a good question. My mother comes over the hill with a basket of towels and a curly-haired angel trotting after her. Straight for the twin buckets of water goes Caroline, dumping cup after cup onto the marigolds, cup after cup onto her shirtfront, obliviously beautiful. Like an oracle my mom hangs up the laundry and doesn't think it's going to rain further; it doesn't, and I plant radishes. At least I think I plant radishes, but I keep dropping and picking up and planting the seeds and a few other round things that may be pebbles or weeds or eggs or something else entirely unpleasant. Like toasted caterpillar.
I go in with Caroline and her wet shirt plastered to my torso. Caroline moments where she isn't breaking my heart and refusing to blow kisses and give hugs and waltz around the room are getting rare. Not because she's running out of kisses and hugs, but because we get a day older every time the clocks hit midnight. Someday, we're going to be discussing wedding plans after a morning of gardening while we scrub out the half-moons crammed into our nails. Instead she's hollering a single syllable, presumably about water, but she's not interested in washing her perfect fairy hands. I wash the yellow dirt out of my fingerprint, and sit down at the computer with wet baby girl wiggling in my lap. The first email I read: Bailey, enjoy every minute of your time now with your family and friends, jot down those "special moments," and then some time later revisit that "box of memories." They will be more precious to you.
I open up this blog post and write, in case the morning is gone forever.