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MARTHA SEZ: Tom Sawyer and having a green thumb

June 11, 2012
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

"Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life." So begins Chapter Two of "Tom Sawyer," in which Tom cons the other boys in the neighborhood into whitewashing Aunt Polly's fence.

By chapter's end Tom has learned "that work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do."

Spring is a great time for outdoor work. Saturday mornings people up and down the block are weeding, raking, and hanging out laundry. To some it's hard labor and to other's it's child's play.

As I was digging a new garden bed yesterday, passersby kept lingering to chat. People love to watch other people work.

A teacher out for a lunch-hour stroll expressed envy, as I lugged sod, that I got to play while she had to go back to work.

It's true; she was obliged to go back to school, and I was not obliged to plant more flowers.

"I see Biff slapped a coat of paint on his deck," a neighbor remarked a while later. "Wish he'd clean up his compost area."

Have you ever noticed that it's always someone else who slaps on a coat of paint? Never oneself. Were I doing it, it would be edging, trim, finish work, or simply painting. There would be no mention of slapping it on.

Years ago my younger brother, Al, had rather complicated ecological reasons for not raking. He would like to rake the leaves, he explained to our parents, but felt it was sounder practice to allow them to decompose in a more natural manner.

I would have raked leaves myself, but unfortunately I was generally unavailable on Saturday mornings, due to my habit of hiding when chores were dispensed. My sister Molly probably did rake. She also actually did her homework. Hunh.

I carried my books quite a distance every day to and from school, and figured that was enough.

My brother Al was no stranger to books either, and in fact took it a step farther than I did, by actually opening them and then placing them, text-side down, on his head. It was common in my home in those days to hear a gentle snoring sound issuing from the library, where my little brother could be found, books balanced on his head, apparently sound asleep. He had a theory that he could in this way absorb the reading matter directly into his brain.

Of course, if you are obliged to rake, there is nothing like reading a book, or taking a nap.

A young man who lives over on the next street stopped to watch me dig and informed me that he has made a discovery: Raking is number one on his list of most-hated jobs. There is just no way to get comfortable raking, he explained. One day he shoveled dirt in the rain, and even that was preferable. He has been doing raking jobs for two weeks now. Before that it was painting.

"I thought painting was your most-hated job," I said.

"No," he replied thoughtfully. "It's raking."

I've dug the new flower bed. As it says on the seed packets, "when all danger of frost is past" (in the Adirondacks, that means "when Hell freezes over"), I will plant the seedlings I have been tending on all of my south-facing windowsills. One of them, Kniola's heirloom morning glory, from the Fedco Seed company, is the most vigorous seedling I have ever seen. It's kind of scary.

A couple of weeks ago, as I typed, I thought I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was Kniola's morning glory, trying urgently to get outside through the window. Or did I imagine it?

It moved again. I witnessed a tendril actually jump, scouting along the wall in search of an anchor. That's how strong the life force is. They say that in Iowa after a rain you can sit in the fields and listen to the corn grow. I believe it.

Now it has twined itself around the cord to my iMac keyboard. Perhaps it suspects that I'm writing about it.

At this rate, it will probably be taking over by next week. My Kniola's heirloom no doubt thinks there's nothing to writing a column. It probably tells the other plants that I'm just slapping the thing together. I'd better get it into the garden soon.

Have a good week!



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