Taking a piece of ground that has lain fallow all winter and planting it is profoundly rewarding. I love the smell of the frost-loosened soil. As I work I occasionally stop to lift a handful and crumble it gently between my fingers, take the last small bit up to my nose, and give it a sniff. It’s earthy astringency wakes the nose, though, to a complex fragrance. There is really no one smell that a healthy, long-worked soil exudes, no one overriding odor, but rather myriad scents from all the seasons gone by and all the crops that have grown there.
As I rest a moment on my garden fork in the early morning light and sniff, I can imagine farmers and gardeners from all over the world, and their crops, their families, their lives; I can smell the ancient, fertile soils of Mesopotamia, Chichan Itza, China. I can sense their toil, their sweat, their tears, but also their joy, and the warm satisfaction they must have felt at harvest time. That vision—that my work is part of a continuous, human tradition spanning so many centuries—doesn’t happen if I am struggling against the balance of some top-heavy, overpowered machine, or sealed inside a layer of protective clothing; it comes from close-up contact with the soil, the air, the plants, the animals: the whole community of the garden, stirring in anticipation of another day’s warming.