Here's another small bit from my latest manuscript--Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden. What will my wife say? I'll let you know after dinner.
My wife and I are walking the garden after lunch. She comments on how thick everything is, especially in contrast to the picture I emailed her that morning, which showed the garden sprouting in April. After the annual cut down in March, the place is a moonscape—you could play a football game here unimpeded by any plant, except for a shrub or two. I often forget about the change that occurs, but when I stumbled upon that photo my jaw dropped. The garden is not a miracle, but it as close to one as I’ve ever witnessed.
My wife stops and says, “I mean, look at that.” She nods toward the coneflowers and bluestem. “That was nothing just two months ago. I can’t believe it.”
I stoop to pull a weed and reply, “Yup, that’s herbaceous perennials for you. Pretty amazing.”
She looks down to me with a quizzical look, as if I’d just stammered, or started speaking in French. “What kind of perennials?”
“Herbaceous,” I say, “perennials that come from the ground up every year.” She turns back to look at the coneflowers and a moth landing on an early bloom.
“Her-bay-shus” she says slowly, as if rolling a piece of candy around in her mouth. “Her-BAY-shus,” she says again, but putting more emphasis on that stressed second syllable.
“Are you ok?” I ask.
“Yes. I just like the way it sounds. Her-BAY-shus.” She says it this time a bit more sensually, like you might say “curvaceous” as you slide your hands down your body parallel to one another, imagining the form of a perfectly sculpted supermodel.
“You’re weird.” I say, staying on my knees, reaching into plants for more weeds I’m now noticing. She ignores me, and with the delight of a new word still pulsing through her, asks what a tall plant is.
“Eupatorium,” I respond, looking up then looking back down quickly, getting lost in my work as I do too often, the garden an impossible siren song I can’t ignore.
“Yew-pa-tor-ee-ummmm,” she says, letting the last consonant hum through her and echo, ricochet through her bones. “YEEEEW-pa-TOR-eeee-uumm.” The second time is more playful, a quick “Yewpaw” and a long “toreeum.” She says it again, and it reminds me of watching Sesame Street, with the words on the bottom of the screen and a ball bouncing along on each syllable as it’s spoken. Somehow, this comforts me.
She starts walking again around the garden, on her own now, completing a circuit that often takes her no more than ten minutes, and can take me anywhere from thirty minutes to a few hours. Soon, she’s sitting on the bench, staring off into the distance, then the sky as several franklin’s gulls circle west overhead. I get up and stoop a dozen times, pulling weeds, noticing insects, calculating when something will bloom. I can see my wife on the bench mouthing the words I’ve taught her, sometimes looking at me, sometimes a plant. Each sound is a concrete thing like the perennials, but also as abstract and ephemeral as a summer afternoon seducing you to stay a while longer.