by Bill Bailey, guest writer
To me, now that I am older, some of the first signs
of spring are the songs and courtship rituals of the birds around my
feeder. One small chickadee will show up, carefully choose a sunflower
seed, and fly it over to another that is sitting on a nearby branch.
That usually brings on a dizzying flight of “catch me if you can”
through the trees until he either gives up, or she stops and accepts his
offer of food.
If she accepts the gift, he will begin a victory
dance, which ends with the two of them flying off together, and he will
then defend her from all the other males who offer her their own choice
gifts from the feeder; then I watch as the two of them begin to build a
nest for their spring hatch.
When I was much younger, I only heard the songs of
the birds in the spring. I was much too busy watching my neighbors, who
were mostly “older folks,” going through their own spring rituals.
I would see my neighbor’s wife in the front yard
removing old leaves and other debris, that had blown in over the winter,
from her flower beds in front of the house. I knew that her husband was
out back, preparing for a hard day of labor after mostly sitting and
quilting together all winter.
The garden in the back had to be prepared for
planting and, since this happened in Grantsville and the garden was
fenced-in, it required running a roto-tiller to turn the soil, since
there was no way to get a tractor in to the garden.
I didn’t know much about flower gardens, so I left
her to her flower bulbs and seeds, but I could hear him out back, at the
edge of the garden, pulling the rope on that tiller for 10 minutes,
taking a five-minute break, and then pulling for 10 minutes more. Being
no more than a boy, I was sure I could get that tiller going in no time
at all and have the whole garden plowed before noon.
After we removed and cleaned the spark plug and
made sure the tank was full of “new” gas, he would explain to his wife
(who was, by then, standing at the corner of house certain we had
sneaked off to go fishing) that we were just having a little trouble and
would be plowing soon.
After another hour of pulling the rope and kicking
the tiller, it would eventually start with a loud backfire and a cloud
of black smoke. When the smoke turned from black to a pale blue, it was
time to engage the tines and start plowing. It was also time for him to
check and see if she needed any help with the flowers around front. He
would show me, precisely, how he wanted the garden plowed and then off
he would go.
Although the two of us were never weighed at the
same time, I am certain that the tiller out-weighed me by 20 pounds. The
ground was hard and bumpy and no matter how hard I tried to go in a
straight line, I always seemed to till in a serpentine fashion.
Personally, I thought it not only looked good, but I figured you could
grow more vegetables in a crooked row.
Afraid to shut the thing off in case it never
started again, I would put it in neutral and walk around front to see if
he was ready to take a turn. The sight of the two of them, with heads
close together, turning the soil by hand and discussing what would look
the best, and where it should be planted, made me laugh to myself and
turn back to the dreaded machine that I was certain had been
manufactured in the fires of Hell just to torment prideful boys.
About two o’clock, I would come down the last
serpentine row and they would come around the house, hand in hand--hands
that were covered with the rich, black dirt of their morning toil. He
was ready to take a turn at the plow.
She would take me into the house to wash up and
have a tall glass of fresh cow’s milk, along with a plate of homemade
cookies, while insisting that I come to the house that evening for
supper. I always went to enjoy her delicious cooking, listen to the two
of them talk of the vegetables to come, and to see that garden, tilled
with rows that were straighter than straight. I never could figure out
how he did that.
The smiles on their faces in the spring erased
years of wrinkles that had been there only the day before. Another
winter of cold, snow and quilt-making together, was followed by the
promise of spring, flowers, home-grown food and evenings to be spent on
the front porch swing talking to neighbors while lightning flashed in
the distance and lightning bugs danced in the yard.
I’m starting to think that now it might be time for
me to look for a roto-tiller of my own--perhaps an older model--without
the new-fangled electronic ignition that makes them so easy to start. It
just might be that some youngster still wants to see the rituals of the