So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
-Poem by William Carlos Williams
I first read that poem in high school and promptly forgot it. It was nearly 10 years later, after university as I worked in the “real world” that I decided I liked the ivory tower better and wanted to go back to graduate school. Only after starting graduate school would I remember the rainwater glazed wheel barrow.
I was in Turkey for my first archaeology field season when Williams’ wheel barrow came to mind. Maybe it was the pastoral setting with sheep, goats and turkeys rampaging across the golden countryside. Maybe it was the horizon dotted by slow moving tractors harvesting grain that would feed most of the country. Or maybe it was the fact that I’d discovered how intensely, mind numbingly boring archaeology can be at times. I’m not sure what the impetus was, but I was in immediate need of poetry.
Don’t get me wrong, I love archaeology, but there are days when you’ve come across nothing, nothing, nothing, but more dirt, nothing to get your mind working on anything. It was one of those mornings where I’d found nothing but more dirt… again… that I found myself quoting poems memorized in high school. Emily Dickenson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Random Shakespearean sonnets. And what bugged me was that I couldn’t remember the one about the wheel barrow and the chickens. It just seemed to fit somehow, but I couldn’t remember the words and there was no wifi for miles and miles.
In fact, not only was there no wifi, but there was no electricity, no running water, no cars at the village across from our excavation site. My favorite thing was to watch as the donkey drawn cart come trundling over the hill, dangling with plastic bowls, metal pots, children’s toys, and other paraphernalia that the local villagers might want to purchase. Often on those same days we would see the ice cream donkey hoofing it over the hill. The donkey was led by a young boy and had two large, orange, insulated drink containers strapped to his sides, both filled with the local ice cream that is blended with pounded orchids giving it a distinctively gummy texture. It’s an acquired taste. At the time I didn’t know that this was not the glorious rainbow sherbet that just the mention of caused my parched mouth to water. When I finally gathered up the courage after weeks of excavation to get some ice cream from the lad… I ended up burying it in my back dirt pile the minute he was over the hill again. Maybe it was just his local batch, but it had the overall flavor of what I can only imagine old tires must taste like.
What brought all of this to mind was me digging in the dirt of my garden patch. After our relatively warm winter, my plot had begun to look rather… what’s a polite word for it… scruffy… unkempt… bordering on embarrassing. I hacked away at the clumps of stubborn grass and filled my borrowed red wheel barrow to the rim twice with fluffy, green toupees to dump in the pig pen. The pigs seemed to have fun tossing them in the air. Or at least I think they are having fun. They might have been vehemently stating that fluffy, green toupees of grass are not delightful pig snacks. Just to be sure I brought them some wonderfully wilted vegetable scraps later. Those pigs have long memories.
But that brings me back to the wheel barrow, glazing rain water and chickens. So much depends upon… Still makes me smile. As I swung my scythe of doom for weeds (aka a borrowed hoe that I likely should not be swinging like a scythe) poems from high school streamed through my mind. Foremost has been the white chickens by the red wheel barrow. Though in my mind this is followed by a curly haired little boy chasing the said chickens amid much cackling from boy and chickens.
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I love William Carlos Williams. Props for great taste in American verse!
Thanks for the poetry props. 😉 After that first season I started printing out favorite poems to keep in my pocket so if I was having another “just dirt” day I could pull one out to try to memorize so that I’d have something for my mind to work on. I think the first two I did was Yeats’ Second Coming and Angelou’s Dawn of a New Day.
You might consider overwintering small-seeded fava beans (Banner is one variety). They do a really good job of keeping weeds out, they fix nitrogen into the soil, and they’re easy to pull out and rototill under when winter’s over. Just try to rototill them before they go to seed, while the stalks are still fairly tender. After they go to seed, the stalks get fairly fibrous and tough. They can still be tilled under, but it’s tougher to chop them, and you end up with dry stalks in the dirt for a while. Not a huge problem since they’ll compost away eventually.