Oh, sweet earth, I was a mere child, but I sensed your importance that warm spring morning as I watched grandfather with his white horse Paddy, arduously plow, furrows in the golden soil of the hillside garden.
Nearby, in the lower garden, between the cellar and the barn, grandmother was vigorously tilling, nearly black soil, with a homemade pointed spade.
Short years later they allowed me a small plot where modest potatoes were my only, real success.
I ignored you during my roaming years, but your precious gifts never ceased. None the least, was the taste of the most sumptuous tomatoes grown this side of heaven, by a friend's dad - a coal miner - in Nova Scotia.
And those carrots I pilfered from my landlord's garden in Calgary were divine. They were a comfort and joy in a city where I was alone and near penniless at the time.
Now, together for 30 years, we have produced tomatoes, potatoes, oregano, sweet peas, beans, onions, garlic, spinach, zucchini, winter squash, beets, savory, chives, dill, lettuces, chard and strawberries. Some have been exquisite, others, work in vain.
Your earthly delights come not without pain, anguish and wonder be it the rocks, weeds, stumps, slugs, cats, moose, frost, rain, wind or sun.
And my work to create that delectable black joy - compost - enriches my dear Newfoundland garden and bonds me with your soil.
Oh, sweet earth, forgive us our trespasses and bless us with thy continuous bounty! Amen.
Those 250 words (the maximum) were my entry in the 2011 Postcard Story Competition (Writer's Union of Canada). I wasn't a winner, but the challenge and reflection were worthwhile.
My grandparents (Louie and Mary John) had a garden that dated back to World War One when, "As a gesture to encourage agriculture, the Company gave land, fencing material and fertilizer to the people of Grand Falls, and offered prizes for the best exhibits. In 1918 there were 465 Exhibits." (Newfoundland - From Shadow to Sunlight; by George Hicks; unpublished, Harmsworth Public Library) Oh, to have a local exhibition for gardeners once again!
As for that white horse, Paddy, I learned years later he was a Newfoundland pony. But not your typical one, as Paddy did not go gently into the night or day. He was one saucy horse - a true stallion - that bit, kicked and chased. I was afraid of him. But he met his match with Pop!
Grandmother could match Paddy for work. My mind's eye sees her clearly, near the cellar garden, heavy dark clothing, summer heat and attacking the soil with her pointed shovel. Being so young, I didn't realize the true value of a root cellar. The only other one I ever saw in town was Nathan Carter's, over the hill from Pop's, on Junction Road.
Paddy was sold, and many years later I learned why. The few dollars Pop made a month hauling newsprint from the mill to the Blackmore Printing Company, and other odd jobs, jeopardized his old age pension. Marginalized people continue to be easy targets of government!
Sweet Earth brought back memories of the time my friend Doug and I hitchhiked from St. F.X (Antigonish) to his home in River Hebert (near Amherst). I had worked in the massive open pit mine operations in Labrador City so to visit Doug's father at the pithead, at a seemingly mom and pop coal mine, was a memorable night. And his father's tomatoes were truly heavenly - mother earth's best and a pure pleasure to eat. Doug died in Australia and some of his ashes now sweetened the earth in River Hebert.
And before my end time, I continue to sweeten the earth of my own garden with compost. This year I added the regular stuff and leaf mulch. The mulch smells delicious - almost edible. The soil must rejoice in its presence. And in return I hope to rejoice with hopefuls such as chard, zucchini, garlic and strawberries.
Sadly, it took WWI (1914-18) to prove that gardens in then tiny Grand Falls, could produce bountiful food. Now, with the mill gone, there is plenty of good soil, not just for kitchen gardens, but gardens to feed the province and perhaps some of the world.
Michelle Obama started a kitchen garden at the White House and now leads the charge for Americans to, not just grow their own food, but to eat healthier. Who's to lead us in Newfoundland?
As for forgiving our trespasses against our sweet earth, there are many. Here in the Exploits Valley the mill and Buchans mine top the list with the abuse of the land and waterways. The mine is finally being cleaned up, but the mill's mess is yet to be tackled. Thankfully though, the River has been on the mends for years. Industries of old should be a lesson for all of us, and governments, that new industries must never again endanger us or our sweet earth.
Common folk need not be smug and point the accusing finger solely at industry, especially in this province, where our sweet earth is abused constantly with the likes of wood smoke, litter, recreation vehicles, town dumps and raw sewage. The latter two are improving, but there is a very long road yet to hoe in Newfoundland. And we are too darn slow!
In the big picture, unleaded gasoline and catalytic converters, are just two examples of doing things right for the environment, all the while not killing us financially or ruining an industry. New vehicles alone bring our sweet earth one step closer to its once pristine state.
And the sooner that day comes, I say, Amen to that!
Andy Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org