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Author’s Note: This writing came from a virtual writing marathon, where we were encouraged to write around our place of residence. Since the day was nice, I spent most of my time outside, recalling a recent event in my efforts to grow produce. Months later, I picked up that writing again, and added to it, as the gardening saga continued. I continued to develop this writing one of the classes I was teaching in the fall, a developmental writing course for first-generation college students. After my students gave me feedback on several areas of my writing, I revised it and set it aside. Now, as we enter the spring months, I hope this piece and the one that follows (I split this into two posts) will offer some encouragement, whether you are a gardener, teacher, writer, etc.

Part 1:

6:30 p.m. July 21:

“OOOO, mom, let’s get that!” My 6-year-old called out in the hardware store. 

I looked to where he was pointing: 50ft of deer fencing, rolled into a bundle and encased with plastic. 

“No, I don’t think that would work,” I said. “We need to get something to keep the bunnies out and the holes are too big in that. 

I turned to a smaller bundle of chicken wire, 60ft in total, also encased in plastic, with some of the sharp wires poking through. I shuddered, imagining how the sharp points would scratch up my arms as I imagined wrestling it into our cart. I was not going to enjoy this. 

Earlier that day, I had determined to set a fence around my garden. In mid-July, I returned from a vacation to find exactly one stubby bean plant left of the 60 or so I had planted two weeks prior. The early spring crops of spinach, peas, kale and strawberries had similarly failed. At first, I chalked it up to some combination of old seeds, little rain and my own neglect in not weeding. 

Now I knew that there was a 4th factor: determined rabbits. 

The solution was one simply stated: put up a fence around the border. In reality, the process would be more involved than I – someone who hadn’t even mustered up the dedication to regularly water and weed – wanted. Yet I was determined to have some sort of yield this year. 

It wasn’t that I needed garden produce so badly; I LOVE garden tomatoes and beans, but I don’t NEED them. No, I willingly sought to invest my time in building up a garden that might yield nothing at all, because in the end, I would know that I gave it the time and attention needed to give it the best chance to bear fruit.

I pulled the roll of chicken wire up from the pallet and into my cart, feeling the sharp points and grit as I grappled with it. Kids in tow, I wheeled to the checkout counter. 

4:00 p.m. July 24

I approached my weed covered garden, supplies in hand, on what I thought was a pleasantly breezy day. Setting the fence posts and chicken wire to the side, I grabbed my dirt rake and stepped into the garden.

I first had to pull back the rocks that created paths between the boxes. When I first built this garden, I spaced the boxes apart, laid down a weed barrier, and put rock between and around the boxes. 4×4 timbers created a barrier between the rocks and our lawn, and now I needed to pull back the rocks to make room for the fence. 

It wouldn’t be an elaborate fence – a few posts on each side, attached to a run of chicken wire. 

The dirt rake in hand, I set to work pulling the stones away from the timbers, planning to eventually the rocks over the very bottom of the chicken wire fence – stabilizing and re-enforcing the structure. I moved along one side, sweat quickly accumulating on my forehead and neck, then crouched down to remove the remaining rocks left after the rake. As I squatted and leaned forward, I felt the heat of the sun more fiercely than expected. 

I guess it is 4pm, I thought, acknowledging that the Nebraska summer days increase in temperature way past 2pm. Heat builds until 5pm, and often relief doesn’t come until long after the sun has set. Of course, I put my garden in the sunniest spot in the yard. 

Still, I worked in the heat, enjoying seeing the visual confirmation of my labor as the fence rounded one corner, then another. 

Standing up, I felt a little lightheaded – a sure sign it was time to eat. I grasped a few more weeds that popped through the rocks. The black barrier beneath I installed several years earlier proved useless against the grass seeds acclimated to the arid Nebraska summers. If seeds settle on top of the barrier, amidst the rocky path, all I could do was pull the plants that sprouted up. A few more pulls, another section of rocks, and I judged I had a good enough start to finish the job after supper. If I were to finish the job, I needed the energy supper provided.

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