Mary Mary Quite Contrary

By Felicia Schneiderhan

A year and a half ago my husband Mark and I bought our first house.

The previous owners had beautiful gardens, but in two years of vacancy, things had gotten out of hand. The two planters in the front yard were overrun with hostas, sage, day lilies: dense and crazed, a good haircut a month past its prime. And the raised garden outside the kitchen bay window – who could tell the madness spawning in there? Six feet wide and twice as long, when we bought the house in July, the mystery meat of greenery was hip-high; by August, it reached my chin.

One afternoon, in feverish desperation, I went out with a kitchen knife and hacked it all down. The bed looked like a summer buzz cut gone awry.

This spring, I vowed to take action. My sister-in-law, a master gardener, advised me that the only way to really get rid of the weeds was to dig them all up by hand.

I like a challenge. Problem was, I was eight months pregnant.

It became my daily albatross to spend an hour or two in the weed patch, on my knees, unknown baby resting between my thighs, meticulously digging up each weed. It was just after the end of Lent, the relief of Easter. The weeds were only a foot or so high, and inch by inch I would gingerly take the weed and begin to pull. It was like chasing a walleye on the line into a sunken tree; careful not to break it off, careful not to let it tangle in the hidden branches. After an hour or two or some indiscriminant time, I would finally stand, letting the blood refresh my legs. I would sip water and stare down at the patch of land I had so carefully, tediously cleaned. On a good day, it was the size of a pillowcase.

In all, I logged about twenty hours on my hands and knees, pulling up weeds.

Finally, a few weeks before my due date, the garden was ready. At the grocery store, I stared at the picked-over seed display, and finally chose huge sunflowers and two large packets of wildflowers.

If you are a gardener, you are laughing right now.

I bought two bags of compost to feed the flowers I would plant and scattered the seeds willy-nilly. I waited, waited for the baby, waited for the flowers to greet him or her.

The baby came late, a week and a half after the due date; a beautiful boy was born to us, around the same time that the first brightly colored red poppies began to appear.

I learned to nurse. I learned to change a diaper. I sat at the kitchen table, overwhelmed by a crying baby I had no idea how to console, a house around me piled with laundry and mail and gifts demanding thank you notes. Outside, the garden stalks grew. More and more stems, filling every inch, crowding for soil and sun. Tiny white flowers appeared. A few more red and pink poppies unfolded silky petals. Three large sunflowers opened their eyes and turned their faces to the sun for a brief week, before bowing to a nor’easter.

Then came thick yellow dandelions, followed by prickly stalks sprouting mean-looking heads wreathed by purple flowers; real gardeners know them as the vicious stinging nettle. These flowers’ spindly arms wrapped themselves around each other, choking their brethren.

On Labor Day I admitted the obvious; wildflowers are a kind term for weeds.

In anticipation of my baby’s birth, in my rush to prepare a beautiful view from his nursery window, I had planted him a garden of weeds.

As fall sets in, summer is washed away in one windy rainy night in the north woods. The sky is fall blue now, and over a couple afternoons, my son asleep inside, I completely tore out the weed garden a second time. September is a time of new beginnings. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the High Holy Days with the Day of Atonement and the New Year. I am reminded of my own need to clean house, to take stock of what has accumulated in my spirit since the cleansing discipline of Lent. It’s time for me to do a little weeding within.

Felicia Schneiderhan lives in northern Minnesota with her husband Mark and their son Rafael. Having survived the “fourth trimester,” she’s back on the writing wagon.

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