Sunday, January 18, 2009

Saturday's Work

Reading poetry and planting carrots: one is almost impossible to do too slowly; the other, equally hard to do thinly enough.

Someone asked me to read a Judith Wright poem recently at a group reading. She thought that my faintly Australian (it can be augmented for a Paul Hogan effect) accent would be more appropriate in reading an Australian poet's work than her faintly German one. We stepped aside into an empty room to practise: I breathed and thought “Slow, s-l-o-w”, reading until I felt like a 45 being played as an LP. From the corner of my eye I saw her raising her hand and lowering it: “Slower,” she was signalling. “Slower!”.

“That was fine,” she said as I finished. “Just a little too fast...”

Every autumn and every spring when I thin the carrot bed and pull out literally hundreds of pale orange matchsticks, the the smell of carrot clinging to them with the fine clumps of moist earth, I reflect that each one wasted could have grown into a carrot in its own right, and I remember the old advice to mix carrot seed with a handful of sand and sow much thinner that you imagine the seeds need to be. Each year I ignore the advice, figuring that I'll do it right this time... and I never do.

So yesterday Alex and I went down to prepare the lower veg patch in the field for a massive planting of carrots... (I am tired of planting a range of crops for the health food shops that buy from me. Inevitably I end up with an excess of something that someone asked for and then refused to take. At the moment I have about thirty each surplus white cabbages, red cabbages, and cauliflowers – none of which we really like – and I'm giving them away. So my strategy is changing: carrots always sell, and if we have extra the kids inhale them, I make carrot cake, and we're happy. Garlic always sells. So do cucumbers. So this year those are my three crops, and the fickle public can whistle for the coriander, rocket, fancy lettuce, and chard that they sometimes clamour for and sometimes reject out of hand. I've planted enough for us and a little extra for friends and private customers, and the rest can go hang. I've busted my ass for faceless people for long enough...)

Where was I... raving? Yes. But I should have been thinking about the carrots. That is part of my goal of living mindfully rather than wasting my energy on what doesn't really matter.

Alex and I went down to lay the hose, prepare the sprinklers and plant the carrots, and as we were sorting out the hose I realised that there was much more work than I thought because Best Beloved and his brother had started an agricultural project and taken away all the taps that blocked the hose lines that I wouldn't be using, and the reason that there was no water pressure in the carrot sprinklers was thanks to all the water pouring out of the holes that were missing their taps...

So shouting to Alex to turn off the water, I started putting on the taps. When I came to the third one, I paused. Protruding from the ten-milimetre hole in the pipe was the bent-double mid-section of a small lizard, the water flowing out around it. When I lifted the hose and the water stopped , I touched the lizard's belly and it moved. He or she was still alive. I gently tried to remove it, but no dice. The poor thing must have been running along inside the pipe when Alex turned the water on and the pressure forced it half way out of the hole.

I put the taps on the other holes, then called my son to help. I am not particularly squeamish, and I don't like passing on to other people what I can't face myself, but I didn't think that I could dismember this lizard. I showed Alex the pitiful little belly, no longer heaving at my feather touch, and said: “It's dead now, but I really don't think I can face pulling this out, can you do it?” He plucked a stick a little thicker than a straw, eased it under the lizard, and gently pulled. I didn't watch. I couldn't bear the thought of that creamy skin splitting and guts pouring out. “Hey!” I heard. “Look at this – it's still alive!”

A drunken-looking alizavra plopped onto the earth and staggered to the shelter of a large clod. Alex and I knelt and he gently moved the earth. “I think its leg's broken... no, no, look it's fine!” None the worse, the lizard bolted for more cover – under my boot. I lifted my foot carefully and ushered him to the compost heap.

So the carrots went unplanted yesterday. By the time we had sorted out the hose and the taps, rescued the lizard, fixed the sprinklers, adjusted the pressure and decided where the beds would be, teatime was nigh. Tomorrow I shall mix each palm of seed with an equal quantity of sand, mark my trenches, and sprinkle – more thinly than I believe necessary – for the harvest in May.

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