The Dirt Delivery
I have to admit, when the dirt delivery arrived in mid April, I cried. Not big tears, but they did form in the corners of my eyes making it hard to see, even as I tried to pay attention to the enormous truck that had just arrived at my house. It was backing up my driveway, moving slowly toward the space I had allocated for the delivery, and I felt a huge sense of relief. The dirt had finally arrived, which means I was actually, really, truly going to be able to have gardens in the back yard. It was a small sign that things were going to be okay.
The delivery had been on hold for weeks, close to a month because of the stay-at-home orders in Washington state. With the pandemic everyone deemed non-essential was told to stay home. And so we did. We stayed home, and I transitioned my work as an artist who was getting ready for a robust art show circuit, to the basics of living. The outlets for my business were being cancelled or postponed until further notice. Everything changed so quickly that I found myself just standing in the middle of my studio, staring at everything, not sure what to do. Then, I figured out what I needed, a connection to nature, a way to help ground myself when everything seemed so tenuous and unknown. So, I started making plans for a garden and that meant I needed dirt. Our backyard was growing grass, but the soil under the grass was so poor, I didn’t have a lot of faith that it would grow much of anything else. And good dirt is not one of those things you mess around with.
Dirt is the most important ingredient in gardening. Yes you need seeds and trellises and a trowel too, but, if you don’t have good dirt your plants just won’t grow. I use a combination of organic material and good old cow manure. It’s a mixture that is pungent when it arrives, steaming as it falls off the the truck, and a dark color speaking to its nutritious fertility.
I tell you this because my choice in dirt is an act of subversion. Making choices like what dirt I want in my garden is based on my experience and my intuition. I choose my dirt carefully, and I don’t ask other people’s opinions anymore, because I know what I need. I err on the side of giving my plants what they need with the best of intentions toward their nutrition and care. And this year I’m also setting up the base of each bed where I can add more organic nutrients in the future. For now I start with the richest stuff I can get from the local landscaping company and I just smile when I’m warned it’s too rich for a garden, because I know otherwise, and my plants do too.
Now, calculating how much dirt one needs is a logical and rational task. It is a combination of area and depth translated into square yards. But, the calculation is nothing more than an idea. What exactly does a truckload of dirt look like in person? I Googled it. I saw pictures of dirt in front of other people’s houses and thought – that will fit in our driveway. I wasn’t wrong, but, when the idea of dirt turned into reality, I held my breath as it slid out of the dump truck. It landed on my tarps and created a huge pile that just seemed to keep growing until it took over the whole space and then started to spill over the edges too. It landed with a whooshing, padded sound that was both impending doom and incredible hope and joy. And I was smiling and wiping the tears from my eyes as the truck pulled away leaving me with a humungous pile of dirt.
And, then, at that moment, a weight I didn’t even know I had was lifted off my shoulders. I felt more upright, lighter, and happier too. Because it was actually here and it was the most significant ingredient to my garden project, the one I needed right then, at that moment to make growing things possible. For weeks it had been unclear if it would come at all, and now it was actually here. “I have dirt!” I called friends to let them know, sharing my news. “I have dirt! It’s finally here!” And in that moment we were able to smile and even laugh a little at my childlike excitement. Then I got off the phone and we got to work, moving that pile of dirt, slowly, one shovel load at a time.