Dancing with the tiller

It was a perfect day to work outside.

Gardening had gotten under Audrey’s skin this year. And when gardening gets under your skin, it gets under your nails and in your shoes and in your nose. The scent of wisteria and warm compost demand company. When the rain retreats and the thermometer advances, there is no keeping the gardener out of the garden, or at least out of the general vicinity.

Photo by Pam Wells ©2010

Audrey labored at her laptop on the patio table.

“What’re you working on?” Joe asked, and sat down with his coffee.

“A garden piece,” she said. “Funnily enough.”

“Funnily, huh? You’re not laughing.”

“Well, who am I to complain? Sunshine, fresh air, everything glooming—”


“Blooming, blooming. I’m waiting for words to bloom on the page.”

“Not happening, huh?”

Audrey glowered at her blank document. “So what are you up to? Gonna work on your script?”

“No, I’m tilling.”


“It was either that or move out.”

“Oh, when did you start taking me literally? I meant it’s the perfect time to prepare the soil. Then it needs to rest before you can plant it. Have you taken its temperature?”


Joe clearly was not engaged in garden logic, but he refilled his mug and followed his mom to the back yard. She had staked out an ambitious garden plot, about twelve by twenty feet. Several bags of manure were piled off to the side. She inserted an instant-read thermometer two inches into the soil. Her expression said she was satisfied with the reading.

“Ninety-eight point six?” Joe asked.

Audrey smirked at him as she grabbed a shovel and dug up a small chunk of earth. She closed her fingers over it, then opened her hand. The moist clod broke apart with an extra squeeze. “Felder says you can destroy the soil structure if you till it too wet,” she said.

“You should make something out of it. A bowl.”

“That’s a big pile of manure.”


“Steer manure,” she said, nodding toward the bags. “I should’ve bought compost, too. I think we’re supposed to do it all at once. Felder says you shouldn’t till too often or you can pulverize the soil.”

“I never knew there were so many ways to wreck dirt.”

“Yeah…” Audrey’s expression gradually changed from student to skeptic. “It does sound kind of silly,” she said. “You know what? Maybe we should try the tiller and make sure it runs. I don’t think Felder’s used it for a while.”

Joe drained his mug, then told Audrey he needed a quick break. He headed to the house as she inspected the old tiller. This was no motorized trowel; this was a serious garden machine. The four-cycle, eight-horse engine perched up front like Yoda. Handles were offset so the operator didn’t have to walk over the fresh-tilled earth. Audrey checked the gas reservoir: full. No easy-start button here, just the jerky old pull cord.

• • • • •

It was a perfect day to work outside. Joe hummed away at his laptop on the patio table. Out back, a serious gardening machine rumbaed across the new garden, its partner hippity-hopping along behind. Felder coached from the sidelines.

©2010 Pam Wells


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