From an early age, probably due to too much Wendell Berry and a hippie of a brother, I have wanted to get my hands in the soil. It's a commonplace, romanticized notion these days but then again, when hasn't it been?
At sixteen, I spent a month on a trail crew, where I weeded, stripped logs and cleaned up roadside trash in the same national park where an isolated Kerouac once lived on a 6,000 foot peak. After studying in Spain, I went to Nazano, Italy for three weeks to work on an organic farm and after college, the itch still tingled underneath the skin so I headed away from the city, down to Honduras. Although not my first country of choice, I was convinced to go after hearing that the place where I would be working was situated on 2,000 acres of property with a self-sustaining farm and gardens.
In all of my well-intentioned but futile attempts at country living, I've come away with very little knowledge on how to actually grow anything. I tried growing herbs (herbs!) from seed last year that never yielded anything that I could use in a kitchen. In Italy, I harvested zucchinis but mostly worked busing tables on the weekend when the farm's restaurant needed extra hands (and mostly just indulged in the house's expresso machine and the homemade tiramasu in the fridge). It took me a year in Honduras before my friend and I finally hunted down one of the farm hands and told him we wanted to milk a cow before we left for the States. The 22-year-old who helped us couldn't help but chuckle when I talked of my dreams of one day being a granjera.
I do, however, feel plenty confident in my ability to climb mango and guayaba trees and come away with a shirt full of fresh fruit. There's an art to it, I swear.
I'm now about to move into an apartment that doesn't have a yard or even a balcony. I have some succulents and a purple heart for greenery and a dream that next summer, I can spend Sundays at an urban garden learning how its done. I mean, I was never one to learn Spanish from textbooks. The concepts clear on the page were never fully digested until I actually had to speak Spanish everyday for a year. And the same goes for vegetable gardening; a seemingly simple endeavor, I just don't think I'll ever learn until I get my hands in that soil.