The Distinct Pleasure Of Playing In The Dirt

I found myself outside again this week. It's an interesting change of climate here in South Carolina: more humidity than we are used to. And a hotter sun, it feels like. My husband's glasses sometimes fog up when he steps outdoors to run an errand.

My purpose for going out was to clear some weeds so we could plant a few things. Seeds are available. New dirt is available. But wow, those wild plants do love to take over!

So out I went to do a little meditative gardening, which is what I like to call weeding. Because yes, I love to pull weeds. I can't explain it entirely, where I came by a love of such, though I can tell you a story that might be a big clue.

When I was a preteen, probably about the age my daughter is now, but the memory is fuzzy, the family went to visit grandparents. My grandpa was a special man, gone too soon from this world, so I especially cherish the memories I made with him. He was really into gardening and had just discovered the Square Foot Gardening technique, bought and watched a big pile of VHS instructional videos, and was mastering the art in his own plots outdoors.

My grandpa called me his sunshine and it was rather a favorite nickname of mine as a child. On one particular day, he announced he'd be going outside to do some work. I really wanted to spend time with him, so I followed him outdoors.

That was the day he taught me how to weed a garden. With his big, powerful hands he pulled up a stubborn clump of grass from the garden plot. It looked easy, so I immediately gave it a try. I yanked and yanked and found it faster to pick one blade of grass at a time. Grandpa came over and with a twinkle in his eye and amusement in his voice he explained to me that if you merely pick weeds they will grow right back. What was I supposed to do then?

"You have to get at the roots," Grandpa explained. He then showed me how to push aside the soil and follow the little trails of roots going down into the ground. Some were extra stubborn so we used a small garden tool to loosen more soil. Once I got the hang of it I developed a real knack for it. It was so fulfilling to track down every last root and pull it all triumphantly in one piece from the ground.

I stayed outside too long under the Florida sun that day. I was supposed to be helping grow tomatoes, not becoming one myself, but that's the nature of how much I love weeding- I entirely forget the sun.

Flash forward to these past few weeks and I will tell you that I am still that child who loves weeding so much she forgets the sun. The second day I went out mid-afternoon and my shoulders turned into beets. Ok, enough of this vegetable foolishness. I adapted quickly and I have what I like to call a nice deep red tan. Sorry! I can't help it. Too much time in the sun!

This week I'd wised up a bit more and went out while the sky was overcast wearing a t-shirt with max coverage. I had freckled up nicely and was sporting a sweet little blotch of poison ivy on my foot by the end of the day. It's alright. It hasn't spread!

I may still be overdoing it a bit outside. I crave the dirt and find great pleasure in removing weeds and stirring around the soil. The root systems of these wild plants are just amazing and beautiful. Did you know that? I'm in awe of the fact. I took several photos and could not do them justice.

I am telling you: I love weeding. I love playing in the dirt. I am not ashamed of it. I like being that strange bird. So I will continue to clear out pots and plots and get myself into too much sun or, um, non-essential oils. It's some of the most satisfying hard work I've done.

Why? Again, I don't know. I feel connected, somehow.

To the earth.

To my embodied self.

To memories.

To Grandpa, who actually feels present, and smiling, watching over a dirt-covered someone who will always be his sunshine.

Jamie Bagley