April 16th in Marlboro, Vermont, and my garden fork hits frozen ground at 4 inches. Funny that our cars sink in ruts deep enough to plant bushes in the road, yet we can barely find enough softness for sprouting peas in our yards. The goal for the gardens this year is to replace most of the flowers with food.
Last Sunday night, I had a phone conference with my writing mentor. We talked about the overall publishing arena, the wavering standards, and the “readiness” of a story.
What is readiness, anyway?
I thought my terraced beds would be ready. A month ago, I ordered 6 red currant bushes, 2 elderberry plants, 2 table grape vines, and a new zone 4 hardy shrub cherry from a place called Greendale, Indianna, the word Greendale on the catalog having grabbed the hand of my vision and run. I gazed from my paper order form to the snowy landscape out the kitchen window as I spoke lengths of numbers into the phone to the customer service woman, who was probably wearing short sleeves, who repeated them back like an incantation. Melt snow, melt snow.
But like T. S. Elliot’s April, the melting of snow can be cruel, the revelation a rust-hued lawn, a leaf-littered garden patch. What’s a life that whoops it up when the black kale from last fall greets the gardener like a cluster of veiled mourners?
“Stories need to breathe. They can’t be rushed,” my mentor says.
The space between us through cords of phone line, beneath the ground and above the trees, meets somewhere in the middle. He is probably wearing short sleeves.
My stories have only known the inches of winter’s death, of all that rests beneath the well-earned drape of time, cold and dreary, after the first rush of autumn drafts. By drafts, I mean the writing kind, four inches thick on my table.
“You’ll know,” he continues, the pause stretching between us. “One day, you’ll read it and know exactly that it’s done.”
Take up the hoe, I tell myself. Prod the depths a little bit each day until the ground gives way fully and the writer/gardener manifests her flowers to food, and the absoluteness of ready.