Happiness Comes from Dirt

Jul 1, 2016

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. I’ve just come in from the garden where I finally, with help, evicted the last of the weeds where my cucumbers, beans and winter squash should already be in and growing up to my chin or beyond. One of the most aggravating things about getting old is that one is apt to run out of steam long before the things that steam was supposed to accomplish get done. So I have great green tomatoes, lovely green and red cabbages just about to head up, and robust eggplants and pepper plants gathering their steam, getting ready to make splendid things like Tabouli and Babaganouj. And Potatoes. Wonderful potatoes of a half-dozen varieties, blooming their majestic heads off. All well and good. But then came the rains, and then a deadline arrived, and then I had to, I mean I got to, go out and tell some stories. And of course, then came the heat to deal with. And while I was doing that, the weeds did what they always do. They got way out ahead of me.

Then I did what I always do. I groused and ground my teeth and whittled away at them, clearing enough greenery to fill a bushel basket and open up enough ground to stick in a poor little trio of root-bound red cabbages that were suffering. Then, of course, I was off and spent another week away, and came back with two more tomatoes forced on me by another gardener who was shocked, shocked, I tell you, upon hearing I had failed to plant any Paul Robesons. Of course I had managed to tuck in two black Krims, a German Johnson, a green zebra, three Rutgers, three early cascades and some mystery volunteers, some illegal immigrants coming from god knows where and with who knows what intentions. But no. I had to try Paul, and so had to find a space for him, twice.

And there was another thing. I had searched for and found at the Baker Creek spring thing a number of starts of an old sweet potato variety called Oak Leaf. I’d grown them years ago and remembered well their beauty and delicious, string less flesh. My pal Pat wanted some too, but didn’t have space for them. She came over and we repurposed a large bed I’d meant for some Yukon Golds, normally my favorite. But good grief. I already had six varieties of Irish Potatoes. What did I need with another? So we popped those beautiful little Oak Leaf starts into that bed, she spread a five gallon bucket of worm castings over the bed and we topped it off with well-rotted red clover hay for mulch. They’re looking great. So are the watermelon and possibly cantaloupe plants from the seeds left among the worm castings. I can’t leave them there, or they’ll use up the nutrients meant for the yams. But weeds have taken the only place where they could be transplanted to.

Well, I know there are times when one might ask where friends are when you need them, but today it didn’t even come up. This was because yesterday evening, about supper time, up popped a longtime friend traveling back home from a vacation. She enjoyed a visit with old friends but then had been five hours on the road. 

“I need to stop and move around some,” she said. “Need any help in the garden or somewhere?” I tell you, I almost heard little angelic voices singing in harmony. I’m sure that’s what it was. Mosquitoes can sing that high, but they seem incapable of harmonizing on any level, in my experience.

So this morning after coffee, we met in the garden and murdered giant pigweeds, pulled up grasses and made ready the waiting seed bed. And just as soon as I get through with this remarkably true story, we’re going to go back out and move watermelons and plant the seeds of sweetmeat squash and Fortex beans and lemon cucumbers, and I’ll be even happier than I am right now. 

Of course, my visiting friend, when I was blabbering on over how absolutely tickled I was about getting these weeds out and seeds in, with watermelon for next month’s dessert, said, “you know, of course, that what you’re going through right now is being caused by dirt.”

I think I said something intelligent, like, “Whut?’

“It’s true,” she said. “Science has actually identified a relationship between friendly soil microbes and happiness. Apparently they can actually make you happier and smarter, just from having your hands in the dirt.”

I was at a loss for words, and became more so the more I thought about it. It’s true that as a person gets older they invariably have a growing load of memories, unfortunate events and bad choices that accumulate and drag along behind them, like the tin cans somebody ties to the back of the car the newlyweds drive off into their new life, only much, much farther down the road. I don’t really think of it as depression in the clinical sense, but just an accumulating sadness that manifests as us trying to stay busy. Like that perennially quoted nugget from baseball legend Satchel Page that goes, “Don’t look back. Somethin’ might be gainin’ on yuh.”

So is that the cause of my frequent pose staring out the window looking over my coffee cup at the ever changing garden, feeling a longing for something inexpressible that I somehow intuitively know will bring sunshine into my day? Bacteria? Tiny invisible motes left by some ineffable presence whose purpose is simply to give us free access to joy. Just because?

Imagine it. All the troubles of the world that grow out of our differences about religion and such, our beliefs about who god is, and what he or she wants from us. Who is worthy? Who gets to go to heaven and who is shut out because their God is too mean or too unforgiving to welcome all of his children home?

I have a thought about that. What if God is bigger than that? What if that simple aphorism is true that “we are nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else?” And if that’s so, if that’s what that first garden was meant to tell us – then why on earth are we fighting when there are gardens to plant, soil to get our hands into, oblivious to our differences because we are too busy scooping up invisible living pieces of Joy, of god by the handful. Too crazy? Too simple to be true? Science won’t tell us what to believe about it. It’s just soil microbes hanging around waiting to make us happier and smarter. No big deal. Maybe. Maybe we should just stick to our pride and our resentments and our very deep, very important differences. I don’t know. Don’t care. This is Marideth Sisco for these Ozark Hills, and I’m going out to the garden and see if I can trade me some bean seeds for a little more Joy. Care to join me?