hoeing, and john updike

Margaret went away for five days this past week, to visit an old friend.  I stayed home with my little boys, my four and two year old, and passed the first four days in a rather scattered fashion: surreptitiously sipping coffee while perusing the New Yorker in our town library, as the boys contentedly played with the library toy trains; running frantically between babysitters and painting studio; running frenetically between preschool and the painting classes at my studio.

On day five, I woke up early, and pulled out my garden tools.  I placed them on the dewy lawn, and set to work.  The boys woke up, and joined me in the front yard.  I weeded, and dug, hoed, trimmed, and pruned.  Right beside me, my sons weeded, and dug, hoed, trimmed, and didn’t prune (too sharp.)  The sun beat down on us, and we laughed at the odd shapes of spiders, sang songs about the sharp holly leaves, learned that bees aren't bad but are good, and learned how to stack a short stone wall.  We then took several flats of flowers out of my truck, and arranged them throughout the garden.  Once we found the perfect spot for each, we set to digging.  Liam dug with a hand trowel, Evan pulled the plants out, Liam loosened up the roots a bit, and I placed them into the soil.  And as the side of the house turned gold in the setting sun, we covered the ground with mulch, and called it a day.

So, in making myself look like a wonderfully attentive father, and a considerate husband, I intentionally failed to mention that I began the morning quite differently.  I put a DVD into the player, so that the second the boys awoke I could shove food in their mouths, and stick them in front of the tv.  I wanted them out of my hair, I wanted time to myself.  I was just going to sit down on the couch, sleep til nine, and just while the rest of the day away.  And then, I remembered a favorite poem.  In fact, it came as a sort of rebuke to me.  In my mind, I rehearsed it.  The poem stayed in my mind the next day, after Margaret had returned home, and as I painted away at my easel, admiring the deep shadows in the laces of my boots.


I sometimes fear the younger generation

will be deprived

of the pleasures of hoeing;

there is no knowing

how many souls have been formed by this

simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks,


moist-dark loam--

the pea-root's home,

a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the great weeds go under!

The blade chops the earth new.

Ignorant the wise boy who

has never rendered thus the world


-John Updike