the stiff earth, bending a little

Dear Readers,

It is February 10th, a cold, bright blue day. I am wearing two pairs of pants, and four layers of shirts under my coat. Two hats are snug on my head.

I stumble across a four inch sheet of ice, carrying a full bucket of water. I am headed towards the hoophouse nestled by the treeline. It’s an enormous caterpillar, pale in contrast to white snow. I make it to the door without spilling much water. I unlatch the door, and step inside: it is cool in here, but much more comfortable. I take off my scarf.

I am starting my seeds in a hoophouse in Sparks, Maryland, about 40 minutes from the farm. It’s unheated, but there’s electricity, so I have long plastic heat mats that will warm up at night and keep my seedlings comfortable. Today, I will plant my first seeds for 2014.

After mixing water into a huge tub of potting mix and packing my plastic seedling trays with the moist soil, I consult my crop plan and select a packet of snapdragon seeds. I open them: they are tiny! I had forgotten how tiny they are. I gently shake some into my palm, and bring my face close to the seedling trays. I carefully sprinkle two or three seeds in each cell, breathing in the scent of earth and humidity.

I seed snapdragons, chamomile, feverfew, dianthus, and Sweet Annie. I don’t know how long I’ve been here; I am lulled into quiet work by birds rustling outside and the sound of melting snow dripping from the hoophouse walls.

I nestle my seedling trays in rows on top of the heat mats, and cover them with a transparent cloth and plastic tops, to keep the moisture in. I set the heat thermometers to 68 degrees. I clean up, check over my shoulder, close the door behind me and latch it shut. I squint in the bright day, and slip and slide back to my car, turn the key with frozen fingers, and fly away, leaving the seeds in their pocket of warmth.

The season has begun! Every few days, I’ll seed more, and then more, and in the meantime I will hover nervously over them until the first green sprouts emerge from darkness.

All of this reminds me of the end of a Louise Gluck poem…

…the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

Be well, stay warm!
Laura Beth

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