The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Elizabeth Greener

. . . and sud­denly ev­ery­thing be­came clear to him. — Chekhov HERE I am in the garden. It’s strange for me to be up so early, but not sur­pris­ing on such a morn­ing. An­other night of wake­ful­ness, deal­ing with the grief of my fa­ther’s death. The sun is only just touch­ing the top of the ridge­line above the gully, yet al­ready I feel the weight of heav­ing hu­mid­ity. The laden air trans­mits the morn­ing sounds, in­ten­si­fy­ing the screech­ing of bugs, the call of birds, the trains slow­ing and stop­ping at the rail­way sta­tion kilo­me­tres away.

I climb over the chicken-wire fence that sur­rounds the lit­tle veg­etable garden. What was un­til re­cently a scrub turkey nest is now a cor­doned veg­etable patch, grown on soil that is black with hu­mus and rich with worms. Af­ter years of a one-sided bat­tle we have de­feated the scrub turkey that claimed our land by scrap­ing leaves and sticks from all around the neigh­bour­hood to a mas­sive pile in the back yard. Now a tiny chess­board of a veg­etable patch has been cre­ated with a rough fence keep­ing out the turkey, the pos­sums, and the vines chok­ing all in their path. De­spite all the de­mands of this turkey’s ob­ses­sion with mak­ing a nest, I am thank­ful for his gift.

As I work I re­call proudly show­ing my veg­etable patch to my cousin just last week af­ter the funeral. Look at my basil and pars­ley, rose­mary, to­ma­toes and let­tuce! He smiled po­litely at my work and then told me how to pick the let­tuce leaves from the out­side to keep the heart grow­ing. Now I pull weeds from the loose soil, flick­ing mos­qui­toes from my arms and wip­ing the sweat, mixed with dirt and drip­ping down my face, with my sleeve.

As I dig, the air is filled with the scent of herbs; the basil, mint and pars­ley mixed with soil makes ev­ery hand­ful of weeds I pull rich, fra­grant and en­tic­ing. I smile at our cat as she saun­ters across the grass and I pick her up and scratch her head, be­fore plac­ing her in­side the wire with me. She lies across the pile of weeds, flick­ing her tail at the in­sects that now hover above the ex­posed worms. I move to stake up the to­ma­toes and I stop and stretch, rub­bing my hands up and down my lower back. It’s then I no­tice the pair of kook­abur­ras silently watch­ing me from the Hills hoist, with their heads tilted and beaks in a per­ma­nent smile.

The sun is higher now, with sky and earth knit­ted to­gether by light re­flected from the lu­mi­nous tin rooftops up and down the gully. There is heat, crazy heat and I am now work­ing quickly, alive to the sounds, the smells and the light­ness of the soil. The neigh­bour is sud­denly next to me across the small wire fence, and in stilted English we both agree that yes it is hot, very hot. I hear the scrub turkey climb our stairs click click­ety-click across the deck and into the kitchen. I hear the cat food be­ing eaten, the bowl be­ing scraped across the floor be­fore the turkey runs back down and flaps across into the neigh­bour’s yard, dis­ap­pear­ing into the fo­liage. And I laugh at the ab­sur­dity, the crazi­ness of it.

Mov­ing more rapidly now, I clear the weeds, lift out the cat and climb care­fully over the wire. Drag­ging the hose across the grass, I spray the veg­etable patch, lov­ing the sound of the water splash­ing on the fo­liage. Climb­ing the stairs, I look back at the patch and no­tice droplets sparkling in bright sun­light. To­day this slight garden, loosely framed by curl­ing ragged chicken wire, feels like a mas­ter­piece.

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