Happy Earth Day. A few days ago, a reader asked me to “kiss the New Mexico sky” for her, and that’s precisely what I’m doing on this cloudless day. Lately, I feel I’ve been kissing the ground too, tasting its grit between my teeth as I dig around the yard and the wind kicks up.
We’re attempting to restore the beauty inherently here on this land. But for so long, this plot of earth was neglected, abused, trashed, polluted. Last week we hauled off 1,480 pounds of metal to a recycling center, where old cars and washing machines mingle with rusty water heaters and general junk, dumped onto mini-mountains towering high toward the sky. A massive claw of a machine snatches that metal bit by bit, making piles to be crunched into perfect, solid rectangles and shipped to India. Whole cars! Smashed to shipping-container size.
And where did we get all those pounds of metal to add to that insanity? Right here, in this backyard. Acres of fencing (the previous owner had dogs and peculiar hobbies) attached to more than 40 posts, each of which took inordinate muscle power for Jerry to remove.
And junk. This yard was covered in junk that still worms its way to the surface and appears out of the blue in the wake of a strong wind. Old poles, shattered glass. Bits of concrete. Enough beer-bottle caps to keep a man drunk for a year. Broken yellow plastic, foam balls, baseball cards, gardening gloves, pot pipes, part of a plow. And a crab claw. I unearthed a crab claw last week in our backyard! In New Mexico, which is nowhere near the sea.
It’s hard to feel optimistic about the Earth these days, what with all the news of climate change, toxic bottles, biofuel, a worldwide food crisis and contaminated blood thinner made from Chinese pigs. I feel like I’m never going to win this battle to respect this Earth and all its living creatures. I ride my bike along the Rio Grande, marveling at the season’s first whiptails, sniffing the sweet cottonwoods that haven’t been crowded out by invasive elms. I watch birds ducking through the trees. Then I sadly look to the scummy residue along the riverbankâ€”evidence of so much fertilizer and pesticides dumped on nearby farms.
All I can do is what I can doâ€”which, right now, is to fix this piece of land beneath my feet. We spotted the year’s first hummingbird on Sunday, and I took it as a sign. I dug through the herb garden, making room for new additions of parsley, basil, dill, cilantro, peppers, tomatoes, mint. I’m amazed. In just one year of careâ€”or at least the absence of abuseâ€”formerly rock-hard, clay-like soil has turned earth-wormy rich. Last year’s onions keep going. Flat-leaf parsley, sage and oregano, too.
And today: the grapes busted out with their first tiny curls of leaves. Winter is over. The apple trees stand in full bloom. When we turn the hose on their trunks, finches come to leap through the puddles.
Happy Earth Day.