Yard Work, Removal, Additions, and Creativity
A reflection on the innate creativity of doing yard work and finding zen therein
Two hours of dedicated work with a shovel, broom, and rake makes six months’ growth in the yard easy on the eyes, eyes attached to a busy mind.
To look on a preened landscape, in our houses, is one example of peace made real. Though ownership of nature is a veritable falsehood, stewardship, I accept.
Like shredding junk mail — wasteful productions of a bygone era — pruning bushes, clearing dead growth, preparing soil for new growth is cathartic, necessary, but unlike making trash in that even though the work may be reductive, a process of removal, it’s fundamentally creative.
I say creative from a place of feeling. Sculpting marble is a reductive process that we can understand as being creative. Clearing weeds to expose the pattern of a slab pathway is creative, uncovering a design that dried vegetation standing a foot tall distracts from.
Taking action in the real world produces a specific sense of satisfaction. Some grass still grows fresh among a spread of dried up roots. Removing the dead matter exposes a clean soil bed and bright spots of green. Contrast here makes the eyes happy, cleansing the visual palette of a vague beige that only distracts from celebrating the success of these little grasses, still growing despite little light or water.
In contrast to the act of pruning or removing dead growth, adding natural matter with the intent of it decaying is something comparably creative, although the timeline here is no longer an hour or two with tools, but seasons and routine feeding.
I spread topsoil mixed with chicken manure over a patch of ground about eight feet by fifteen. I break down a straw bale and spread that on top, several inches thick over the whole. This process becomes a zen practice, attempting to make the layers uniform in thickness, ensuring even nourishment in months to come for soil that’s only sprouted lackluster weeds in years past.
A mystery, what this soil once grew in years before. Sprinklers now almost buried suggest a lawn. Maybe the old elm could speak to what’s been in this space, but now I look forward to making new dirt.
Four months ago, or so, I started this method of mulching the anemic soil, the Ruth Stout Method. Regular watering and little else has resulted in fresh shoots sprouting out of the Newtonian arrangement of straw patterning the soil. A nopal cactus has taken root and grows new paddles. An aloe vera cutting is slowly expanding in all planes, roots pressing against now-soft soil rich with moisture despite the desert’s intent to dry everything under the sun.
So, after some dedicated work, I’ve transformed dense dirt into a fertile patch willing to accept new life. A different type of creativity: additive.
In another year, the straw will decompose from the bottom up, adding more nutrients into formerly-abused dirt, quickly becoming soil. More straw will be added. Water will be kept in the soil, worms will come, seeds will find a fertile place to spread their sprouts upward, their roots into an oasis in an ecosystem determined to stunt growth, but for those rogue spiny plants that find water somewhere in the ground.