Digging is good for the soul and for the physiotherapy industry. It’s been a week of much digging so I guess my soul must be in good nick; my back less so.
I’ve dug potatoes out and fence posts in, attacked brambles buried deep in clay soil, traced the trailing white strands of couch grass, and unearthed dandelions with 18-inch roots.
To dig is to know all of life, in microcosm. On the allotment there is disease, death, struggle, unfairness. There is wasted effort, pain, external attack, mess. There are plans that come to nothing despite months of work. There are things that come to the very cusp of readiness and are lost to the weather, to the animals, to disease or theft, or for reasons that you just never know.
There is also birdsong, joy, sky, the sun on your back, the wind on your face. There is fruit. There is the satisfaction of staggering home almost unable to bear the weight of the day’s bounty. There is cause and effect – the “I made this” moment. There is the occasional glory of reaping what you didn’t sow – harvesting apples from a tree that takes care of itself, of potatoes that regrow from previous years’ harvests, or leeks that emerge in a unilateral act of defiance amid the potatoes, the lone sunflower that rises proudly among the ground-hugging strawberries.
Perhaps most importantly of all, digging teaches you about seasons. That there are times to dig and times to leave be. Digging in a hard frost is all but impossible; trying after rain makes that physiotherapy booking all the more likely. Wait for the right time and the labour becomes not easy but certainly easier. It becomes appropriate.
Digging teaches you too about weeds. About the weeds that need digging right out, and those where the best you will ever do is control them. It teaches you that weeds will turn up looking just like the plants they are among, and that learning to tell the subtle difference between crop and imposter, between truth and lie, takes time and care. It teaches you that you can make things a whole lot worse by breaking up roots and creating 10 plants where there used to be one.
Digging teaches you that some things in life can’t be done once and left alone. They need to be repeated, embraced rather than resented. That there are some things you can’t control.
Digging teaches you to pace yourself, to vary your task, to take a friend. It’s a great way of keeping warm on a cold day. It teaches you to be glad of interruptions, so you can lean on your fork and rest your back while you chat.
Most of us have moved on from digging and manual work and we’re the poorer for it. I’ve heard a senior office manager say: “It’s not like we MAKE anything, is it?” If we don’t make anything tangible in our working lives, digging and growing are the next best thing. Dig for victory, but better still, dig for sanity.