In Search of a Patch of Muddy Earth

THROUGHOUT the long Jackson Hole winter, my four-year-old daughter, Romney, asked when spring would come. Her query became a family joke, chuckled about several times each week, but she kept asking. Finally I realized I had missed the whole point of her question.

At first I tried to explain seasons and natural cycles, to explain time in terms of weeks and months. I even talked about the earth's orbit, rotation, and tilt. She listened to these various answers, went off to play, and asked the question again in a day or two.

Then came the day when we were walking down the street during an early season thaw. The streets had melted clear, and several yards showed spots of dirt and brown grass. At the end of the block we came to a yard with a good southern exposure. Most of the snow had melted, and this yard looked different from the others in the neighborhood.

Romney stopped walking.

"Look, Dad," she said, "that yard has a lot of spring in it."

I agreed, and we walked on. I thought about her remark and finally understood her questions about spring. She wasn't interested in seasons, natural cycles, or the passage of time. She didn't care in the least when March 21 was or what was written on the calendar for that date.

She wanted the earth. She wanted grass, the smells, the sense of aliveness that is spring. She wanted emotions, not science. She wanted feelings, not facts.

I REMEMBERED a sack of grass seed that had been hidden in my garage for six years, freezing every winter and sweltering every summer. One day while cleaning, I found the sack and almost threw it away. I hesitated and decided to spread the seeds on a few bare spots in the backyard. I watered the spots without much hope, and in two weeks, youthful green shoots of grass sprouted and, by summer's end, filled in the remainder of the yard.

The seeds had been dormant for six years, dead for all practical purposes, but the minute they touched the earth, they were changed and came alive. Those seeds were children in winter. They were my own adulthood, when the snows of jobs and responsibilities keep me away from the earth too long.

Most days I walk on a sidewalk, drive on a road, and live in a house sitting on a foundation. All these insulate me from the earth, keeping me inside a seed packet on a shelf.

When I can get out into the field, I feel again my boots in the mud, my sleeping bag on the ground, and know the joy that we, as young boys in a friend's backyard, felt when we dug tunnels and rooms, made forts and hideaways, and abandoned ourselves to afternoons in the dirt. We were seeds come to life and knew well the meaning of yards that had a lot of spring in them.

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