Wednesday, November 3, 2010

an unusual birthday present

Sometimes I think about giving an assignment to a roomful of compliant, eager and creative writing students. Funny thing is, I don't teach writing, and never did. And though I write, and am even dabbling in fiction now (for children -- and boy is that hard) I'm not a writer. But these thoughts of providing an assignment, and oh, 'you have two weeks in which to complete it' have been arising. Go figure.

This week's assignment? The best birthday present you ever received.

My birthday rolled around (fortunately) this past Thursday. I share a bday with Julia Roberts and the Statue of Liberty, and my cousin Eric, and I'm sure a few million other people.

This one, though, the thing I was delighted to receive was an unlimited supply of horse manure. Horse shit you ask? You wanted horse shit? Well, not specifically. Other things -- like a free day of plowing, or a perimeter fence for an acre -- would have been equally satisfying. I speak, as you may know, if you've read back a few posts, about the garden I'm assisting, or more accurately, fretting constantly about, down in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Myself, along with three others, who are natives (I am not, which is a bit of a problem. I'm in in NYC, which is very far indeed from Southern Louisiana in more ways than one) started it, back now two years ago. Mr. Lynn Dean, a wealthy and very big-hearted man, leased us the land at no cost, for ten renewable years. August, our master gardener, called excitedly. The owner of a small group of race horses (race horses? In St. B? I've learned to love St. Bernard, but more for its generous, gregarious, gentle, well, not always gentle, people who are NOT the race-horse set, I assure you) wants to help the garden, and is willing to truck over as much manure as we need. His voice over the phone was urgent, excited, delighted. But the horse farm owner was a bit concerned about dropping off a truckload of manure right next to the Cornerstone Church, a former trade school in a tin shed, which sits on the corner of this acre. She wanted the Pastor's phone number so she could give him a heads up right before delivery.

I worry about the pastor, and the neighbors. Will they be as excited as August and me about this gift? Anyway, like Scarlet O'Hara, decided to worry about it later. I caught the fever. Horse manure! An unlimited supply. Free! It didn't come right on my birthday, but the conversation occurred a few days before and you know -- birthdays are really a cloud around the date. Al jokes plaintively that my birthdays go on for about a month, though this isn't so.

A load of horse manure is one of the things we need to get going on this little patch of green, what is destined to be an organic semi-urban farm down there, nestled between St. Bernard and Plaqueminnes Parish, just South of the Lower 9th and New Orleans. It's hard by the Mississippi, and when you look up -- I imagine this scene -- from weeding a patch of beans, you'll see the turrets of big cargo ships slowly gliding down or up river.

The skies down there are quite beautiful. So you'll also see the billowing clouds in a field of pale blue. Above the turrets. The earth is dark and dense (Mississippi mud pie wasn't named idly) and nutritionally very poor. So once we spread the manure, we need to plow it under and turn over the soil, and crumble it a little, integrating the fertilizer. August has told me all this. I confess, I am a farming neophyte. I've grown a patch of beans, cukes, tomatoes, like everyone else, but really in the most unprofessional way. I marvel at cumcumbers' agressiveness, how they leap their boundaires and march towards the carrots. But how to control bugs, thwart voles, irrigate in the dry dry months of this past summer -- I really don't know.

Back to St. Bernard. We received a gift of organic seeds from our friend, Lorna, who moved from Tennesse to help a variety of neighborhoods begin to farm, or garden, on top of straw bales. Post BP oil spill, post Katrina, she figured, people would be needing good cheap food. Anyway, they, the straw bales never arrived, as they were supposed to, from the Midwest. The promise of donated shipping never materialized. But Lorna left us dozens of packets of seeds. Everything we'll need for at least a year. I guess that's another wonderful present. Thanks, Lorna!

So, that's the assignment for this week. What has been your best BDay present?

p.s. My resolve to post here every week, with pictures, interesting musings, has been broken as you can see. I'm deep into editing Mama Sue's Garden and anyone who has edited anything will know that it doesn't leave much head space for much else. Kathryn and I are plowing ahead - pun unintended! - step by step through a recent moment in the history of three individuals, one of them August, and the others, Mama Sue and Lettie Lee. These two projects are intertwined though. I fervently hope that the film gets an audience. It has been at least three years of my life so far. But then, that its fortunes will fertilize the garden.

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