As Soon as the Soil Can Be Worked

As Soon as the Soil Can Be Worked

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter from his archive. Read the previous post here.

Just lately, each morning dawns with spring’s growing influence in chasing the frost out of the woods. I wake to the raucous cawing of crows. They are the voice of new developments in this neck of the woods, they and the occasional raven whose hoarse croak turns every ear as it echoes loud through the tall pines. And then I hear the deep, hollow hammering of the pileated woodpecker who nests in a tree half a mile down the shore on my neighbor’s land, and, from across the river, an answer. These wonderful sounds open images in my head, of sap rising, of spring runoff and the cold, damp mosses’ luscious greens.

First, a cup of coffee, after which Winnie, my pup, and I set out for an early morning walk. He has never experienced spring before and is all wagging tail and unruly commotion as we strike out up the road. Soon, we cut through a fir thicket and are in the deep of it – early spring at dawn. My inclination is to not violate the quiet, and I whisper my sentiments to Winnie, who seems quickly to understand. He appears to have a good nose, and as we crunch over patches of rotting snow, he becomes fully absorbed in sniffing out the details of all that has happened there in the last day. When I stop to look and listen, he does the same. When I turn over a mossy log to see if the salamander is stirring, Winnie thrusts his nose into the crumbled, reddish, tendril-laced decay and inhales deeply. No salamander, but we both take a deep draft of the rich organic smell, and I, for one, am greatly encouraged by the renewal to my senses of this missed odor.

The woods are busy. From all around us comes the steady buzzing of nuthatches. Chickadees flit everywhere through the branches. The loud song of a tufted titmouse and that of a robin up on the ridge bring sure confirmation that, yes, there are changes afoot. But it is still March. We will surely see more snow, if only a dusting, and that knowledge underscores what long periods of yearning this climate imposes on us.

After an hour of poking, looking and listening (and a good deal of sniffing), Winnie and I complete our loop, following a trail through the pine woods along the shore. The path is strewn with clam shells, blue mussels and crab claws dropped by the crows. We stop by the vegetable garden within its stone wall by the barn. Winnie snoops around the compost bin and its winter’s-worth of kitchen scraps. And I, I lapse into a daydream, planning my garden, though it is still weeks away.

The packets of spinach and radish seeds in my garden hod say to plant early in spring “as soon as the soil can be worked.” I have always appreciated those optimistic instructions. There is a lot of room for personal judgement in those words, but for me, who is often laughed at for being a little too quick to rush the season, they are a kind of official permission to get on with spring at will. I eye the deep footprints in the wet soil, made by Susan a day or two ago on her way to the compost bin. Despite the greening sprouts of winter rye, she must have thought it was still winter and headed straight across the garden. And I see where she scraped her shoe off on a sharp rock, probably lamenting the onset of mud season. But I see it as a very encouraging sign that planting season is nearly upon us. I read the packet again; “As soon as the soil can be worked,” it says.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. On October 7, 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.