This morning I just couldn't get all the dirt out from under my fingernails. Look closely, and you'll still see some dark smudges at the corners.
I'll keep my sleeves rolled down today, as my arms are badly scratched with angry welts.
My lower back is so sore and stiff that the fellow sitting next to me on the bus this morning took my arm and hoisted me upright when he saw me wince when trying to stand. The arches of my feet are also exceedingly tender.
And I couldn't be happier. I'm positively glowing with pleasure.
All day Sunday was spent in a fertile farm valley, in the woods and on the hilltops of the rural area of southern Minnesota, just a few miles from where I was raised. I spent the day with Steve, my oldest friend. We've been pals since we were three years old. Steve is now the county attorney in Red Wing, Minnesota, but he's a country boy like me, and his weekends are spent gardening a huge vegetable garden on land on which his family once farmed feed crops for a dairy herd. On Sunday, while our wives had coffee and planned an upcoming girls' adventure at the house over near the Mississippi River, Steve and I drove out to Hay Creek and Stegve's old farmstead, where we gardened and hiked and had a generally fine time. We were joined by Steve's golden retriever, Haddie, who bears a striking resemblance to one of the retrievers I owned as a boy.
We began the day by planting 400 hills of potatoes, which explains the sore back. There is some irony in the fact that I enjoyed this so much. Growing up, my dad was a prodigeous gardener himself, and until I went away to college, two hours or so of every summer day was spend weeding pumpkins and sweet corn and okra and peas and lettuce and squash in the hot sun. When I left home, I vowed that I'd never again grow vegetables. It was too much dammed work, considering that vegetables are so cheap to purchase. I've surely got the gardening bug, but for the most part I grow only ornamental plants and the occasional tomato vine and raspberry patch.
But here I was again, sweating in the sun planting potatoes, but this time happy as a clam.
After the potatoes, we drove up to the old farmstead, which is now beginning to decay in vegetation. The last building still more or less intact is the farmhouse itself, but you can see that it won't be long before nature reclaims it, too. The foundations now have caved-in at a couple of spots, and the yard is beginning to sprout trees. Behind the house, though, a couple of peony bushes still grow, and in a shady patch there is a healthy patch of ajuga. When I pointed it out to Steve, he then recalled that his grandmother had brought it from Connecticut in the 1950s.
Up the steep hillside, we scoured the woods for morel mushrooms, which favor the moist areas around the base of dead elm trees, for some reason. It's been a cold spring here, though, and we found only a couple of small handfuls of mushrooms. We did find deer, though, and wild turkeys, and columbine (which we know here as honeysuckle). And deep in the woods there were jack in the pulpit beginning to grow, and meadow rue, and trillium. Near the top of the hill, some wild apple trees were in full bloom. And there was plenty of prickly ash, which explains the angry scratches on my arms. We meandered the woods and hillsides for hours.
Out on the point of the hill there was a large patch of sumac just beginning to leaf out. The valley beyond meandered west, toward where my own boyhood home was located. We were late getting back to the house that night, and I'm sore as hell today. And I couldn't be happier.