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Michael Perry: Wet, windy, muddy and memorable

Michael Perry: Wet, windy, muddy and memorable


It is important we bless our children with sentimental moments, so today we herded them outside for an hour of transplanting tomatoes in the rain. So it goes when Disneyland is closed.

I am no farmer, and therefore do not ride the roller coaster of meteorology with the same white knuckles of those whose livelihood falls and rises with the rain gauge, but we have just enough in the way of small-time crops that I maintain a low-level awareness of the earth’s moisture content specific to our little patch, and as of late the soil has run crumbly and the fire bans have been on.

Yesterday we tilled and hilled but ran out of daylight before we got the seeds and plants in ground. Many of those hills are laid out in long rows and covered with sheeting, meaning when the rains came last night the soil beneath the sheeting was essentially wearing a raincoat. With warm temperatures and sun incoming midweek, we figured the best thing to do was plant in the rain, as the holes we poke in the sheeting to admit the plants will also admit the moisture. (If this is confusing or comes off as poor reasoning and poorer gardening, understand I am condensing the narrative, and my wife would like a word.)

As we stood in the kitchen and announced the plan, the youngsters swiveled their heads to the window and eyed the slanting gray rain with something short of joy, but when we parents pitched hot showers, a roaring fire and a free-choice evening as payoff, spirits surrendered. (In the first draft I typed “spirits brightened,” but I try to get my facts right.)

It was a 12-15 mph wind putting the slant in that rain, and I gotta tell ya right around the five minute mark even Dad was ready to spin on one muddy heel and head for the house, but at the 10-minute mark we crossed the absurdity point of no return, and for the next hour, the wetter and muddier and more miserable we grew the easier it went. We knelt in the mud like it was carpet, we let the wet trickle down our necks. We got all the tomato plants tucked in, transplanted a brace of shallots, planted beans, and seeded a bunch of vine crops. Between the rows slop abounded, but the plants looked better out of their pots and collared in the earth, and it was good to imagine the water seeping to the seeds and somewhere down there in the darkness a germ cell popping one eye open.

We bedraggled back across the yard and to the house, shedding the worst of our outerwear on the steps and the porch. As I kindled the fire I could hear the first of the hot showers beginning. There was a chicken roasting in the oven. Outside, the half-size maple leaves were sweeping a wet wind. The tomato plants were bending but staying put. They looked like children knee-deep and hugging themselves in a cold pool. The sun will feel good when it comes.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”( Read more from Michael Perry at

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