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November 24th 2009

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    I suspect that I spend more time than is healthy thinking about soil.  Perhaps if I was one of those who rides a tractor, that part of me that enters reverie would belong to the machine shop and to the smell of diesel, or the rifle range and the smell of powder. 

   I could blame it on the first seeds I ever planted.  They came from a packet marked 'radish'.  In one square foot of hard won tilth they went.  Beyond lay a field where the game of rugby was being played, and beside me was that curious entity a teacher from England .

    I cannot remember her face, but I can remember her enthusiasm and her relative youth and her incomprehensible accent.  For some reason, she taught us about Eskimo and igloo.  We made models of snow sleds.  We ran around trapping insects which were put into a killing jar, and when dead removed before rigor set in so they could be pinned handsomely to a board for the purpose of display and identification.

    Those who know radish outside of a kitchen comprehend its prime characteristic as a readiness of habit.  Yet, despite readiness of habit, those first five radish seeds that had been so carefully counted out and placed in the palm of my hand, fell foul of some burrowing and unidentified insect with jaws that crush.  I know this because two weeks later I was reluctantly given five more radish seeds to watch and to carry water for, while other small boys continued to chase rugby balls under an equatorial sun.  

 

   

    There was kingdom, though.  That aspect of territory which inspires possession, or belonging.  A creative part I suppose.  Like a mental patient I enlarged the garden to include roads and stone bridges so that invisible trains might pass under properly cambered roads.     

    Toward the end of that term a row of radish did emerge.  I saw the characteristic leaf, almost a heart shape.  A dull green not to be overwatered.  Vibrant with that understanding of growth, and clearly a red flag to those unfortunates who had spent the term roasting beneath sun while chasing rugby balls.  And when she asked me why, I said nothing to the teacher from England because it was always so much easier that way.  

    Then I think maybe in me soil is possessed by an intimacy, rather than by anything that pretends to be sacred.  It is perhaps blood and bones that have worked the soil, not me.  So I could never be its priest, rather I am a sword and a dagger, and we are acquainted and I am the proud owner of a shovel and a pick.  That glint of sunshine that could be understanding, as a shovel or pick marks a moment of 'creative is'.  But whatever the reason, somewhere between the soil and the thing that is me there is a contentment worth knowing.

    So perhaps when I become even more sentimental, I will croon in that infantile way and I will watch rows of radish go to seed and I'll watch seasons pass and stars fall while happily picking buckets of stone out of the wretched gravel bed.   And I use the word 'wretched' because otherwise I might sound odd.

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tim candler

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