Dinty W. Moore
You can layer me under mud, silt, and soil when I die. You can bury me flat beneath the glorious weight of the sweet-scented earth. Leave me to the industrious earthworms. Let the tree roots have their way. Return my worn body to the oozing, teaming, elemental sludge.
Or actually, why wait?
Any Saturday afternoon in April, or May, sometimes late March depending on the thaw, you will find me crawling on my knees, in my garden, ripping away dead plants, scooping clumps of sweet wet soil, digging through the cold, rich dirt like some sort of hairless bear searching for grubs. A hairless bear who just happens to wear thick eyeglasses and muck-covered t-shirts. A hairless bear that grunts, whistles, and occasionally speaks. “Damn, look at those fat worms.”
I am at my happiest in these grubby moments, elbow deep in primordial soil. I adore the feel of the dirt pressed into my palms, packed between my fingers, coating my forearms up to the elbow. When my denim jeans are spackled, my socks mud-soggy, my forehead speckled, my hair a mop head covered with spider webs, leaves, and twigs, I am content. In this mock burial, oddly, I feel most alive.
There are people, more respectable than I, who tend to their orderly vegetable beds while standing on two legs. These upright people have long-handled rakes and hoes, pristine gardening outfits, sunburn-prevention hats. They have straight backs. Gardening carts. Cool glasses of iced tea often rest by their left elbow, a beautiful bit of condensation forming along the smooth rim.
I see them, in catalogs and magazines, but I cannot understand them. Gardening in that manner would be like trying to raise an infant from behind a pane of glass.
Perhaps I’m descended from the Neanderthals, the group that lost out to the cunning Cro-Magnons back in prehistoric times when the latter figured out tools and fighting implements more quickly than the former. My people were simple folks: they liked hopping around, touching things with their hands.
Or maybe my ancestral line slinks muddily down from one of those bog bodies in the National Museum of Ireland, murdered and dropped into the muck two-thousand years ago, sacrifices intended to mark important tribal boundaries. It would be an honor of sorts, except for the being murdered part.
The peat bog muck is cold, acidic, oxygen-free, and mummified the sad bog bodies, prevented their decay. So we can see Old Croghan man and Clonycavan man today, a bit worse for wear, leathery and brown, but whole still, on display in Dublin.
I visited just last year, and they seemed startled to be out there in the open air.
I own tools: a garden rake, a hoe, two shovels, a trowel, a wicked-looking weed extractor. I often drag them from my garage, back to the garden, on Saturday mornings, and then promptly forget them entirely, abandoning them three rows behind as I crawl through the miniature jungle, working with the tools given me at birth.
Show me some dirt and what I do is get dirty.
My garden is marked by its imperfections, uneven rows, impetuous plantings, and even the occasional propagated moment of herbal wit. I speculate sometimes as to why I prefer the rough, erratic garden: an attempt at justifying my own imperfect life, perhaps? If these peppers can thrive so can I.
And the soil I am clawing into, after all, is soil made from the scraps of my own consumption; the clay I found seven years ago augmented by composted coffee grounds, egg shells, banana peels, avocado skins, carrots, onions, squash, and lettuce. When I am digging, I am digging through the detritus of my life. That’s me down there.
Digging my grave.