. . . 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.