I am spending a lot of time these days out in the garden. For nearly a year, an integral part of saving this historic building was destroying what it had become. And so much had to be destroyed. Stripping walls down to the studs, dismantling a no longer functional chimney, tearing out and tossing all the dilapidated plumbing and sinks and tubs and broken toilets and creepy loving-hands-of-home wiring and frazzled lighting and dubious windows that no longer opened and ruined flooring and busted drywall and cheap weird sketchily installed vintage insulation and carpet so ancient it no longer had a color, plus the 1940s sci-fi oil heaters (there was no furnace), plus the weird things stuffed inside the walls (like jagged sheets of styrene, and feisty Polaroid nudes, and crumbling newspapers from World War I); and then, in one last yard-filling trash spasm, tearing down the entire rotting, rusting, mouse- and mold-filled back porch. We think the subs who did that used TNT to get the job done. The yard was filled, and emptied, four times. Well, not entirely emptied. Each round left its own backwash – nasty junk, crushed small, everywhere. Everywhere. It’s waste ground.
So these days my task – my goal, my pleasure – is to create a simple garden , a place that is inviting to butterflies and birds, with space for flowers and a bit of food crops, a modest spot that is restful and welcoming and easy to maintain. And that also is safe to walk around in. Which this yard is definitely not.
To get over, what I have realized I must do, throughout, is dig out at least the top couple of inches of soil (which is not soil, to tell you the truth, but mostly a gruesome blend of dirt, brick dust, tiny stones, big stones, chunks of brick, chunks of mortar, jagged wooden splinters, rusty bolts and nails of all sizes, stubborn plantain and dandelion roots, and glass – each shovelful has its dazzling assortment of broken glass). Dig it up, strip it away, and throw it out. It’s not topsoil, and it can’t be saved. So, many days I am out in the yard, if only for 30 minutes or so, shoveling up a section of the top layer of whatever this is, along with whatever feisty determined weeds. (In some patches, even after months of me ignoring things, nothing whatsoever is growing.) I’m digging it up, and hauling it out to the dumpster, and goodbye.
I could go on about my plans, and I am sure that in future I’ll tell you a lot about it all – the sheet composting, the backbone plantings, the first actual butterfly visitors, the creative re-use of the pile of 1880s bricks. Plenty of nights I go to bed with back and knees pretty sore, and an impressive array of bruises and scrapes.
This is what I am doing, too, when I can’t bear to think about the way the world is losing its mind. I am doing this, but now, when there is so much danger and evil afoot, am I fixing something? Or am I being naive? When so many people seem to want, right now, to control, and ruin, and punish. I am here, hands in the earth, struggling to heal waste ground, while this chaos bears down on us all.