Last week my coworker ate potting soil. He was planting seeds at home on his back deck, and there was a bowl of oatmeal next to him, and it was windy. He told me he noticed the sprinkling of sediment on top of his breakfast, but he just stirred it in and went on eating.
mud actually tasted nothing like chocolate frosting. Surprise!
It’s been a long haul here lately. I seem to have no energy left at all for anything beyond what’s written in my datebook. Things like buying plane tickets or making anything more complicated than a bagel for dinner—I sometimes can’t even convince myself to get out the cream cheese—or putting away the socks that have been sitting on a chair for at least a week become monumental tasks, and I can feel my muscles grow heavy, can feel the inertia of exhaustion take me, and then things go undone. The crunch will lighten next week and I’ll be back to normal, but right now all I can do is hang on and wait, take good things as they come and hope for the energy to enjoy them.
So yesterday I was pleased when my boss asked me to re-pot some plants. It’s a total cliché to talk about how good it feel to get your hands dirty, but it’s true that I’m always happy when I come home with grit under my fingernails and it felt like a good day for that to happen. When I first began planting things at work I was concerned; I don’t have the greenest thumb despite my best efforts, and I imagined the plants shuddering from our contact, rejecting the soil I patted into place around their root systems. But after a fleet of angry customers failed to come after me brandishing the blackened carcasses of their jade plants, I relaxed, and now my favorite days are the ones where I can convince people to let me plant things for them.
I like the way dirt smells. When I walk around, especially during this time of year, I try to make an effort to use my nose more often—because of lifelong allergies I tend to breathe through my mouth and so miss a lot of discernible scents—and aside from the lilac and hyacinth and spirea and freshly mown grass one of the things I sometimes pick up on is overturned dirt. Scents are notoriously hard to describe but we often recognize them instantly, and this one reminds me of good things: helping my mom and grandmother garden as a child, re-potting my own small plant collection in my living room (shoving my hands into a bag of dirt in my carpeted one-room apartment always feels oddly subversive for some reason), sitting on the grass watching things happen around me. I think it’s so easy, with our sidewalks and paved roads and manicured lawns—god forbid you should walk on them—to forget about the ground entirely.
When I was little and living in Tucson, on hot days my mom would sometimes let me run the hose into our apartment complex’s communal courtyard of packed dirt and scrawny palo verde trees and then coat my entire body in mud. It was luscious, wallowing in cool wetness when the temperature was well over a hundred degrees. Sometimes I wish I still had more space in my life for that kind of abandon. Sometimes I wish I had a garden. Especially now, when I’m exhausted and trembling at the thought of the next week, I wish I had more opportunity to be dirty and uncaring and ridiculous. I want to be passionate about not just love and music and joy, but about dirt and coffee and gorgeous prose and geeky science facts, the ground in front of me and the far-off view.
I am so sick of hearing myself talk about how important the small stuff is, but lately I can’t seem to think of anything more worthwhile to say. I don’t want fame and fortune from my life; I want to appreciate the very ordinary things that happen to me. I want to sniff lilac bushes and eat fresh vegetables and read beautiful books in sunny train cars, and to dig my hands into the soil and come home with dirty fingernails to my cats and my books and a silence of my own choosing. I want sunlight and the color green and lots of garlic. I want dirt in my oatmeal, and mud in my hair, metaphorically and perhaps literally. I’m such a ridiculous optimist, an earnest romantic despite my best efforts, but I want to do small things and enjoy them fully and just savor the feeling of being alive and happy, to have a life that is wonderful without necessarily being huge.