While I wasn't writing, through the spring, I kept busy with a garden. The old guy who'd had the place before me had been one of those "alpha" gardeners when he was younger. The back yard was still furrowed and dented from where a tractor had passed over it many times.
In my mind, I can see the tall stalks of corn growing neatly, the perfect turnips poking up out of the soil, peppers and tomatoes practically bursting from the vine.
His garden would have looked just like the slick pages of a seed catalog.
But that garden would have been many years ago, before his wife became so ill, before the old man, himself, grew tired of the leisurely work of growing food for fun and began talking to real estate agents about selling the place.
The garden was gone, but a kind of scar remained covered by a green overgrowth of thick clover; clover, that choked my mower and left me sweating and swearing under the mid-day sun after I'd worked the whole morning; clover, that made me regret every footfall by the end of each wasted Saturday and wish for something like napalm.
Starting a garden seemed like my only option. If I couldn't cut the grass, I'd carve it out and replace it with beans, beets and watermelons for the kids. I'd make the garden so big and massive, the neighbors would think I'd turned Amish.
I had no idea where to start. My few attempts at gardening had been typically sad and depressing. It always sounded so easy: just scratch some ground, put in a few seeds and cover them up. Remember to water them and let the sun take care of the rest.
It is not that easy.
Too often, I'd wound up with sickly plants with slick, black roots that looked like they'd been drenched in motor oil. They bore little fruit and their lonely, wilted foliage always suggested unspeakable abuse. In a good year, I might get a handful of tomatoes and a couple of pencil nub carrots. The rest would go to weeds or to seed and become bait for moles.
Through the winter I poured through books --some of them I read --and I looked for advice on how to plant, what to plant and when. I glanced through catalogs like I teenage boy with his first porno mag and gazed with something approaching lust on weird, Russian tomatoes and exotic African gourds. What was the point of even trying if I was just going to grow what I could buy at Foodland?
Everything looked amazing. I chose half a dozen varieties of this and that, sent off an order then did it again with another company. Some of this was bound to grow, I figured.
But I didn't have much in the way of tools: a couple of plastic hand tools generally used for flower gardening (purchased from a dollar store and probably meant for a child) and a snow shovel (bought at an auto parts store and not especially good at removing snow).
Pretty clearly, I needed a few things.
For months, I told myself I needed a tiller: front tine, rear tine; some kind of tiller. It would solve all my problems. It would chop the ground up like hamburger, reduce the weeds and grass to rich, organic confetti and I could just cast my seeds out over the perfectly sculpted rows like rolling dice. All I'd have to do after that was get a watering can and remember to make sure to dampen the ground every once in a while.
Yeah, that was the plan...