After transplanting black currants this afternoon, I think I looked a bit like Mickey from Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen - only instead of being covered in cake batter, I was coated in a thick layer of mud. The soil here is very different than the charcoal-colored sandy loams that I’m used to in the Northwest. It’s a rich terra cotta, heavy clay. Plastered now to my knees is the result of several hundred million years of rock weathering, primarily shale and sandstone, a protracted meeting of mineral and organic worlds. We plant the sapling promises of jam in mounded rows that run downhill, with the slope rather than perpendicular to it - going for drainage, since the high clay content of this soil has water retention down to an art.
There are stories in this tilth that I wonder about. Even just a few brief interactions with the garden reveal signs of a healthy soil ecology. The plants themselves look like the fare of a young giant - winter squash as big as my head, dusky green flags of kale, thickets of carrot tops with bright, bulbous roots dancing their way down, down, down below. Mushrooms pop up here and there. The fruiting bodies emerge celebratory from a hidden mycelial web that transports water and nutrients to where there’s need. The air seems as lively as the soil, as bees push earnestly into summer’s last flowers, and wasps survey the ground, chiseling sugary canals into fallen apples.
The gardener does this too, of course. And in doing so, enters into relationship with the little diggers and digesters of the soil, the insects, the fungi, the ancient processes that shaped this landscape, and the forces brought today by the turning of season. Embercombe’s past and current tenders of the garden clearly have been doing some thing right in this magnificent collaboration. The soil is bursting with stories. To simply take a handful of it and notice its texture, it’s smell, the stain it leaves on my palm, tells me through a synthesis of observation and intuition that it is immeasurably alive. It is impossible to touch something so alive and not be touched by it; experience is reciprocal. And I certainly cannot eat every day from a garden like this without being called closer toward an acceptance of the responsibility - and the deep pleasure - of becoming more fully human: becoming a gardener.