Jessie Raymond: Stuck in the mud — gardening 2017

This year’s heavy rains have made my vegetable garden not only soggy, but downright dangerous.
Now, I’ve always had a healthy fear of the garden, but it’s been mostly regarding spiders — less in terms of venomous bites than in terms of my reaction: having one skitter up my arm, causing me to jump, step on the blade of a hoe and take the handle right between the eyes. It could happen.
But the rain poses its own threats. I know, because I’m a survivor.
I wasn’t thinking much about danger last weekend when I went out between downpours to weed; it’s a task I enjoy early in the season when I still have the upper hand. I just wanted to get out there long enough to alert any weed seedlings that their presence was not required.
I used a hoe at the top of the sloping garden. But the lower end is composed of equal parts clay and manure, and it tends toward swampiness. Setting my hoe aside — a move I would later come to regret — I stepped in to do some hand weeding.
I’ve got a few pumpkin mounds down there. The moment I walked toward them, I noticed an alarming lack of resistance under my feet. My right foot sank a few inches into muck, and when I put down my left foot, things got much worse. Instead of a firm base of earth, I felt a bottomless pit of wet cement.
Looking down, I saw my left foot, shod in a sky-blue rubber garden clog, disappear into the ooze. My ankle bone followed almost immediately after, and my kneecap appeared to be next in line.
“Help?” I said, to no one in particular.
I was stuck.
I pulled my feet and got nothing more than a gross sucking sound, as the mud cleaved tighter around my clogs.
I tried to stay calm. But things didn’t look good. No one could hear me screaming this far from the house. And when I tried to flag passing cars, the drivers just smiled and waved back.
I needed an escape plan. My left foot, now vacuum sealed into the clog by a slick envelope of mud, was not going anywhere. My right foot had some wiggle room, but I knew if I did get it out, the clog wouldn’t be coming with it.
Without my hoe to use for stability, I didn’t have many options. In order to get the required leverage, I’d have to put my bare right foot into the mud and hope I hit bottom.
What critters might I be offending when I did that? Over the years, I’ve turned over all manner of grubs and centipedes and other icky things. Would any of them take the sudden invasion by a bare foot as an act of aggression?
It took me several minutes to calculate my next move. If it didn’t work, I might die out there — or at least be stranded until dinnertime when my family, tipped off by the lack of food on the table, would notice I was missing.
I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. In an impressive maneuver during which I wheeled my arms around like a whirligig but never lost my balance, I acted quickly. Pulling my right foot out of its clog, I squished it into the driest area I could reach. (Ugh.) I then pointed the toes on my left foot, yanked it out of the other clog, and plunged it too into the mud. In a series of ungainly, slurpy steps, I lurched from the garden.
Have you ever seen an artist’s rendering of a mammoth trying to extricate itself from a tar pit? It looked kind of like that. Also, I was squealing.
I fell to the grass, safe. After catching my breath, I checked my feet for centipedes and leeches. All clear.
But — I had to go back in.
Walking barefoot into terra incognita a foot deep is perhaps one of my greatest fears, but I had no choice: A gardener never leaves her clogs behind.
Steeling myself, I stepped back into the mire (picture more mammoths, squealing, etc.). After a violent struggle, during which the mud and I disagreed about which one of us wanted the clogs more, I won.
The good news is that the pumpkin plants seem to be surviving despite the riparian conditions at the bottom of the garden. The bad news is that if the rainy trend continues, I won’t dare to weed them again all summer.
Hey, I like to garden as much as anyone, but sometimes it’s just not worth the risk.

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