from sky to seed

Breaking Ground

I’ve been exiled. Jon says he needs my old garden plot for hay-making this season.

To be honest, I don’t mind the relocation. The last garden sat in a windless hole down by the creek, and the soil is stuffed with squash bug eggs that are my demise.

The new garden space is up by the old homestead site at the center of the farm. There’s a cute little red house that’s supposedly 100 years old, but has stood empty for so long that it only suits squirrels and snakes. Pax won’t even go inside. But it makes a pretty sight. A nearby spring should provide enough water for the garden, plus it’s near the shed and it’s just plum a whole lot prettier up that way.

The only problem is that the new garden is going into an area that we used to use as the farm machinery parking lot, so the gravel and dirt is all packed down and poor, even after a tilling.

Luckily, Jon has a dump truck.


And a bobcat.


And spent the day using the bobcat on another part of the farm to pile dirt into the dump truck and offload at the new garden.


Perfect! He’s so nice to me. And cute. This is him asking me if I think he’s cute. Which I do.


A couple hours later, Pax and I joined. She immediately ran off to say hi to all the cows and totally ruined her nice fresh bath, but that’s okay. She came back ready to get to work.


My job was to run the toolcat and spread the dirt piles. Have I mentioned that I have never driven a toolcat?


“It’s easy,” Jon said. A simple gear shift, a simple lever, air-conditioning, even a radio! Talk about an afternoon in complete comfort. Except that once he climbed out and left to get more dirt, I was jerking the stupid thing across dirt mounds like a broken accordian. I’m a millennial, which means that I’ve been told my whole life how special and unique I am, which means I am no fan of tackling tasks that I’m not good at. I was a TAG kid in elementary school. I’m used to being good at things.

But every time I try something new on the farm, it manages to kick my ass. And operating a toolcat is no exception. Turns out, I am an absolutely terrible toolcat operator.

I kept thinking, How so dumb! And unfair! I can bake artisan bread! I have my master’s degree! I’ve backpacked the high desert! I do advanced hot yoga! Surely, I can run a stupid piece of farm equipment!

But I couldn’t. At least, not with any measure of skill or grace. Every time Jon came up to deliver dirt, he laughed at me. Luckily, we get along pretty good and I laughed back.

I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. I’m notoriously hard on machines, equipment, and property in general. Just yesterday, I forgot my camera bag on a log in the middle of a field.

But seriously. I could not believe how uncoordinated I was at simply spreading dirt. I was so slow and clumsy that I actually considered turning the thing off, hiking up to the shed, and grabbing a rake to spread the dirt. Jon hopped in for a few minutes and tried to show me how to drop dirt and drive backwards at the same time, leaving a perfectly straight path of evenly spread soil. When I tried doing it, a lot of angry clangs and bucket clatter was involved.

It was frustrating. So frustrating that I turned on NPR.


Nothing like Ira Glass to lower your blood pressure.

Luckily, I ran out of gas. Quittin’ time!

Or so I thought.

We have a gas tank on the farm. Right next to the new garden, in fact. How convenient.


Did you know farm diesel is red? I did, but I totally forgot, and seeing it again surprised me. I spilled a bunch of gas just trying this picture for you. Don’t tell Jon.


While I was standing there trying to fill up the tank and balance my gigantic camera in my left hand, I had this weird moment of clarity: Stop being so hard on yourself. You have never driven a toolcat before. On a farm. In Missouri. A year ago, you were teaching English to college students. So drop your ego and do your work.

It got a lot better after that.


I mean, it doesn’t look like a professional did it or anything, but it looks like, well, dirt. And even though I didn’t feel this way yesterday afternoon, I’m sure that at the end of this growing season, I’ll be pretty proud of the fact that I had a direct part in the making of this garden.

The operation started running so smoothly that Pax actually got bored.



I even tried giving her a ride in the toolcat. Still totally boring.


Just kidding. She’s actually a pretty good sport. Aren’t border collies just the best?


Finally, I just let her do whatever she wanted, which was to lay down with her back to me, until we finished for the day.


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