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  • Patty Ihm

Digging Up the Mint


It must have been an imposter: leggy, medium green, and without fanfare, it grew in great bunches where there had been mint last year. I tried pulling out a bunch of that mint two seasons ago, the year after the wedding. It was for Sam and Emily's wedding that I had industriously planted chocolate mint along the south side of the barn to "fill in the space." And that's exactly what it did. It got a little out of hand as things often do around here.


I dug sections of mint to pass on to other gardeners. I pulled out more as the season wore on, adding leaves to my water and generous clumps to the compost pile near the back of the property. Then we got bees, and I read that pollinators seem to be fond of mint. Dan, too, professed to like the mint. I decided to embrace it once and for all, celebrating its positive qualities and allowing it to run wild much like other living things at the farm. It was in digging up the mint that I realized how badly I wanted it.


It's so easy to fall behind. We have a fence with a gate around our main garden. Our cutting garden is defined with a small picket fence. This spring, we officially expanded our secondary garden with another small picket fence. Maybe, on weeks when the weeding rounds are done, the gardens look like what they are supposed to be...at least from a distance. Right now, though, even I am no longer certain what is growing in there. I pushed open the gate one morning last week. I was determined to clear up a small section of the main garden before anyone else woke for the day. I had nearly forgotten about the peas that I had planted as soon as I could work the soil. I hadn't bothered with a trellis, probably because I had forgotten about them altogether. Still, there they were: a circle of robust pea plants, bound together by young shoots, standing strong with the aid of one another. I guess pea plants are a bit like people. They...we...need each other.


The enthusiasm of the HyVee cashier nearly caused me to choke as she offered me the senior discount for my cat food and almond milk. I usually try to go there on Wednesdays to get the Health Mart discount. Apparently, I am now eligible for a special deal every day.


"It's for over fifty-five," she announced with unsettling enthusiasm.


I smiled and thanked her as if it was Christmas morning, somehow managing to contain what I actually felt like saying.


Senior Discount? Don't you know I'm twenty-three inside, you idiot?


When I was twenty-three, my hips didn't hurt when I bent to pull thatch from the garden beds, nor did I know the loneliness of defeat or the depths of great love. There are hard, confusing, beautiful truths out there. We grow old just as we are learning to find the sun.


When I pull frames from my beehives, I marvel at the way the bees hold fast to one another, kind of like a daisy chain with deep meaning, in much the same way as the pea shoots offer support to their comrades in my unruly garden. The essence is in there, somewhere, buried beneath the tangle of crab grass and thistle, holding fast under the burden of the years.


I used the plant-identifying app on my phone to take a picture of the mystery plant that had taken hold among the patches of mint that I had now decided to celebrate. Yellow Clover. That's not what I would have guessed. Where did it come from, so much of it, so quickly? The app also mentioned in the folklore section that a part of the plant worn in one's hat might attract fairies. Though that seemed like an intriguing prospect, I chose to dig up this newly rooted yellow clover. That would leave room for the chocolate mint to spread for the bees and also for the rest of us.


We can't contain it...any of it. It might look a bit better held within the confines of a fence, but that's just from far away. We can try hard to keep up, but we can't stop the time, or the weeds.


The days pass, turning to years where you look back and barely recognize what is before you. One of my adult children lives with their birth family now. The years were often tangled and hard, but there was a lot of good in there. We're all entwined together, reaching up, holding on, leaning in.


I've decided that I'm not going to wear that clover in my hat. I don't even like wearing hats. The fairies will show up when they want to. They will know where to find me, trying to make sense of what's inside the fences.


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