“Life is long. If you're still drawing breath, you still have time to be the kind of writer you want to be.”
John Vorhaus

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Sifting soil at Abbondanza Organic Seeds and Produce
Sifting Soil
Mon 2010-03-22 20:43:29 (in context)

Today, pedaling away from Abbondanza around 12:45 PM, I had my usual rush of energy and good intentions. Having done a solid four-hour set of physical work in the greenhouse, and seeing the blueness of the sky and the long hours left in the day, I was full of plans. I would have lunch at Oskar Blues in Longmont, as seems to be my new post-farm routine. I would do my morning pages. I would blog. I would knock out a couple of articles for Demand Studios. I would then log onto the Sage ocean and host a cutter pillage from Lincoln to Morannon Island.

Stuff! I would do stuff! None of this going home and crapping out for the whole damn day. Stuff would Get Done! By me!

Then, halfway down my pint of One Nut Brown and two pages into my three, I ran out of steam. The sleepies caught up with me. I finished my pages, paid my check, and fell asleep on the bus somewhere between 63rd and 34th Streets. Once home, I had just enough energy to feed the cats and take a shower. Then I pretty much crapped out for the rest of the day, right on schedule.

And that's why I give myself Mondays off from writing.

But I'm awake now, and here's a nice blog post for you. Let's fill it with overwrought metaphor, shall we? The topic for today: Sifting Soil.

Planting seeds was the order for the day, as it had been all week. They were working on brassicas as I came in, with plans to move to celery next. So our job was to prepare more planting flats. We filled a good 70 flats with sifted soil mix, then brought them to the table to press them down to whatever planting depth was required. Now, celery seeds are itty-bitty, so two of the three varieties being planted wanted a scant 1/8" planting depth. The third variety was pelleted, which is to say that each tiny celery seed is encased in a pinhead-sized ball of clay to make it feasible for use in a certain kind of seed-planting machine. Pellets being bigger, they need more like a 3/16" planting depth. Or so.

So with all those flats, we needed a lot of soil mix. And the pile of sifted mix was getting low. So we sifted more.

Several weeks ago, we'd sifted compost through a screen to get all the clumps and rocks out. This compost was mixed with the other things previously mentioned--vermiculite, manure, organic fertilizer, stuff--and the resulting mix needed to be sifted through a finer screen before it could be used for greenhouse planting. That's what we did today. The finer screen, a sturdy mesh in a wooden frame about the width of an air-hockey table but somewhat shorter, was propped up upon four big upside-down trash cans. We shoveled soil mix on top. Then, gloves on hands, we scrubbed the soil through the screen. Scrub, scrub, scrub! And underneath the screen a faerie-dust drifting of soil accumulated, faster than you'd think, into a great soft pile. Eventually nothing would be left on top of the screen but a bunch of pebbles and clumps the size of rabbit droppings. We tipped those onto the ground for later clean up, shoveled more dirt onto the screen, and repeated the process.

Soil is the basic building block for gardening. For creativity, there's a sort of soil that has to be sifted too. Our life experiences, our hot buttons and emotional triggers, our personal tastes in art, and the catalog of sensation that defines physical existence--these are the raw material. We sift through it constantly, artists being introspective types, and we make preliminary creations out of it all: journal entries, rough sketches, all the five-finger exercises of our craft. Then we mix it up, sift it some more, toss out the clumps and the pebbles that would make it hard for a seed to grow, and we take what's left and we plant things in it so that works of art might grow out of that lovingly prepared soil.

Sometimes I find myself unable to switch mental channels while something unhappy, some frustrating chapter of my life or maybe an infuriating conversation I didn't come out of well, is re-running itself on the back of my eyelids. The instinct is to try to push the thought away. I'll unconsciously start humming to drown out the sound of my thoughts. But it's futile; the re-run has to run its course. If I deny it now, it'll crop back up tomorrow when I'm trying to enjoy a mindless but fun activity. And it won't go away until... shoot, I don't know. It doesn't go away until it goes away. And until it does go away, it's on infinite repeat.

Maybe it would help to imagine the re-runs as simply another iteration of sifting the soil. Maybe each time it's a finer mesh screen, and another layer of blockages and impurities will be scrubbed away. The anger blunts, the guilt recedes, and insights remain behind. Maybe eventually the re-runs of that particular incident will stop, having left me with a fine drift of faerie-dust in the greenhouse of my brain, ready for me to plant a new crop of dreams in.

Or maybe not. Maybe it's just the same old obsessive brooding that doesn't help anyone. But having a metaphor to view the phenomenon through, even an overwrought metaphor, well, that should make the next re-run season less boring and painful.