“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
There’s nothing like the feeling of a shovel in my hands and the turning of fresh earth. The dust plumes into the air and my toes become covered with it. It’s all over my legs too. I place the shovel on the ground and kneel where I’d just been digging. I place my hands in the earth and let it sift through my fingers. I breathe in the scent of it. It’s dry and dirty, but somehow it cleanses me. I grab my trimmers and cut roots from the ground, then throw them both aside.
I take the field stones that I’ve pulled from the ground and place them in a rock garden around the concrete bird bath. It was my mother-in-law’s. I look at it and it makes me wish for the days of planting flowers with her. We did that the first Spring after my father-in-law died a cruel death from Pancreatic Cancer. My mind drifts back to the present and to the task at hand. The rebuilding of a dilapidated fence to keep the three Wonder Schnauzers from wandering the streets. Plus the transplanting of Lilac bushes, Hostas, and an out of control Forsythia bush.
My body is sore from a recent car accident, a compressed vertebra and pinched nerve. But I need to be outside. The air is crisp on this Sunday morning. With our bodies in constant motion and the movement of the sun, the temperature increases and I slowly but surely begin shedding my layers of clothing. I start out in sweatshirt, t-shirt and yoga pants. I end up in yoga pants and a tank shirt, since I need to feel the warm sun on my already pale skin.
I do a ton of raking while Roger Darling pulls the posts from the old fence. We re-measure and mark them for cutting and I stand on the boards to hold them in place while he uses the circular saw. He cuts off the rotted end of the post. I smell fresh sawdust because the blade has heated the freshly cut piece of wood. I swear it is one of those smells that takes me back to my childhood. Reminds me of my mother. Of all that she taught me to do. I take my flip flops off and stick my feet in the sawdust. I make sure to pick up and throw away all the old nails that we removed from the posts that we re-purposed.
As a kid I hauled lumber, measured and cut wood, built decks, and painted. Whatever needed to be done, I had to learn to do. I was raised in a houseful of women. We did everything ourselves. It must be why I still like working hard and getting my hands dirty. Honey I don’t get my nails did, because what would be the point? They’d get ruined the moment I found some project to work on. Or stuck them in dishwater or scrubbed a sink. Hell who knows what else I’d get into?
Roger Darling keeps asking if I’m okay. If I’m hurting. I assure him that I’d taken a couple of Vicodin and a Valium and I’m doing just fine. The only thing that pisses me off is that I can’t swing a hammer. I sure do love to drive nails into fresh wood. To hear the sound of it. To feel the force of the hammer bite into the wood and then drive it home. I’m no pussy. I can drive it home in about five strikes. I don’t tap it, for the love of God. I drive it!
The hardest part for us is dealing with the neighbor’s compost pile that’d been sitting up against our old fence for about five years. I pull branches, sticks, leaves, and grab the shovel and dig. Roger Darling is helping too. We’re tired and getting to the point where we don’t give a shit what the last section of fence looks like when placed. Our hands hurt, and the nerve in my back is starting to spasm, all the way down my damn arm. The work must be finished though. I grab the shovel and dig. We place the fence section, and it’s still too high. We’re tired and bitchy but we keep at it.
Finally it is placed just right. We need to add a 2×4 so that the section stays in place. I’m still pissed that I can’t drive a nail into the wood. Roger Darling drives the final nail and the fence is finally set. It looks damn good. Roger and I look at each other and we are so happy with the outcome. The Wonder Schnauzers are happy too. They are finally freed from their leashes and allowed to roam their backyard. We move and replant our various flowers and plants. Our work is finally done. We are spent, but feel accomplished.
I love to work with my hands. To get them dirty. Make them a little calloused and rough. Not to worry though, I scrub my nails and file them back to perfection when the work is done. Roger Darling and I even went out to dinner that night and shared dessert. We figured we’d work hard and played in the dirt, we deserved a treat.
I’m reminded of a conversation I shared with my father-in-law.
He said, “You work hard like a man.”
I looked at him and replied, “No honey, I work hard like a woman. I was taught to work hard by other women.”
My new dad grinned, told me he loved me and gave me a sweet hug. I sure do miss that man. He’d have been proud of all the work that Rog and I did.