When I was 6, my next-door neighbor, Mrs. Calanio, told me, "Everything you need is in the garden."
I didn't believe her. It was exactly the sort of certain yet mysterious remark the adults in my life liked to make.
I was helping her hang out sheets that day. To the right of the clothesline was Mrs. C's big vegetable garden. The moist sheets fanned the marigolds and tomatoes. Beans twined around their ropes, and zucchinis hummed along the dirt. A patch of pansies winked from a far corner. The garden looked interesting, but I knew it didn't have everything I needed. There was no sign of a Hershey bar or Hostess Cupcakes.
Three days later, though, I developed a new respect for the garden. Mrs. C needed help weeding. My mother graciously volunteered me.
"These are the little sprouts, and these are the weeds," Mrs. C intoned. She showed me how to pull the weeds so I wouldn't hurt the fledgling plants.
I wiggled my fingers in the moist earth. It felt great. I had been banned from dirt for some weeks now, after I had added water to it, jumped up and down in it, and splashed happily through it, ruining my shoes and a Sunday outfit. Gardening was evidently an acceptable way to play in dirt.
Now that I'm a grownup, I understand what Mrs. C was trying to say to me. The garden invites me to play in a way that is deeply engaging and satisfying.
I like to sit on the ground. (I do change clothes first; my mother had a point, way back when.) I like the silky feel of new grass and the tough determination of the weeds. I like the ants, worms, and beetles seriously scurrying by. I like the surprise of seeing something planted years ago push its way through the ground to offer me its bloom.
I like the cool crumbly feel of dirt and the way it slides into my fingernails, onto my jeans, and down along the rims of my socks. I like the loamy smell of wet leaves.
"As much time as you spend in the garden, I'm surprised you don't have more flowers," a friend says when she views my backyard.
But for me, the garden is one place I do not strive for results. I stick a couple of bulbs in the dirt and plant an occasional group of marigolds or flock of pansies. While my more evolved friends talk reverently about Mother Earth, I sit in my garden and play with Auntie Dirt.
When my hands are in the earth, I feel centered and at ease. I feel a sense of connectedness with nature. I am no longer a mom, writer, homeowner, or anything sporting an ego. I don't worry, plan, or dream. I am literally "grounded," just a person playing in dirt.
In those moments, everything I need is there in the garden. Just as Mrs. Calanio said it would be.