I have always found taking a piece of ground that has lain fallow all winter and planting it profoundly rewarding. When I was in New England, I loved the smell of the frost-loosened soil: as I worked I would 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. Those soils are often just a bit astringent in their natural acidity, and if I detected too great a bite I’d spread a bit of lime before going any further. That astringency though, wakes the nose to a complex fragrance. There is really no one smell that a healthy, long-worked soil exudes, no one overriding odor, but rather a myriad of scents from all the seasons gone by and all the crops that have grown there.
As I leaned on my fork in the early morning light and breathed in the smell of the earth, I could imagine farmers and gardeners from all over the world from all over the time that humans have tilled the earth: their crops, their families, their lives… I would try to picture the ancient, fertile soils of Mesopotamia, Chichén Itzá, and China. I would try to sense the farmers’ 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 come while struggling against some machine, or from inside some prophylactic 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.