Sunday In The Park |

Sunday In The Park

I think I know myself pretty well. But, I must confess, I recently learned something unexpected about myself. Surprising. Shocking, even.

I am a Dirty Girl.

My husband is, of course, delighted.

I swear, I never knew. But, now that I’ve unleashed my inner Dirty Girl, there’s no going back.

What, you may wonder, was the key to unlocking this mystery?

Landscaping gloves.

Let’s rewind. I’m a girly girl. REALLY girly. I had a wedding birthday party when I was four. I have more handbags than pieces of flatware. I’m more comfortable in a ball gown than blue jeans. Although my fingernails are rarely polished, they are usually a respectable, girly length, scrubbed, buffed and clean. Under no circumstance do I tolerate dirt under them.

This last winter, Tim and I bought our first house, in Cottonwood Heights. We first saw it midway through October, and moved in at the end of November. The yard was overgrown and winter-ready leafless trees, dead-looking grass, you get the picture. We spent the first few cold months working on the interior decorating, painting, sorting through endless boxes.

During the last two months, as we’ve enjoyed hiccups of warmth, it has been an ever-changing treasure, as we come home to surprises in the yard almost every day. Bulbs have bloomed (tulips, daffodils, iris and hyacinth), and we’ve seen flowers on the fruit trees (we knew about the pear, two types of apple, cherry and plum but we’ve been surprised with a crabapple, an additional cherry, what we think is another plum, and a walnut).

Of course, we’ve seen plenty of unwelcome growth as well. There’s a bounty of dandelions, some mysteriously tall grass patches, and about fourteen thousand saplings. We think they’re cottonwood. Or scrub oak. Whatever they are, they’re everywhere.

In an effort to turn our over-grown wild jungle into a manicured well-mannered manor, we’ve been weeding, raking, and pulling. That is to say, Tim has been weeding, raking, and pulling.

I tried to pull a few of those saplings out. They’re about as big around as a coffee stirrer and a foot tall at best, but they’re pretty stubborn about being liberated from the ground three invading treelings into the project and I capitulated. I hurt. My soft, moisturized hands were torn up, and because I had to dig a bit to overpower one, there was dirt under my nails. Yuck.

I returned to my indoor kingdom. Noticing my lack of assistance outside, Tim walked in and asked, "What happened to you?" I showed him my battle wounds and dirty nail beds. He nodded thoughtfully.

A few days later, I received landscaping gloves, along with a bottle of wine, some shea-butter hand cream, and some chicken magnets (those really didn’t have anything to do with anything, but apparently my son insisted). My husband he knew. He understood. He saw my desire to be part of the landscaping adventure, and recognized my inability to allow my soft, supple hands to become dirty calloused tools.

I put the gloves on, and headed outside. I test-pulled a sapling. The sueded grip of the gloves seized the skinny, toothpick sized growth with confidence there was no slip at all as I pulled it out of the earth. My hand didn’t hurt. Nowhere on my palm did I feel anything like the scrapes and scratches that had surrendered me to the indoors earlier in the week. I headed to the backyard, to my true, secret target: the rose garden.

I pulled a few wet weeds. My hands stayed dry. I moved a few rocks by putting my gloved hands in the dirt, under the rocks. My hands still felt clean. I trimmed some debris from around the base of one of the thorny bushes. My hands were free from puncture wounds. Like the sequence needed for a combination lock right to the first setting (dry), left to the second (clean), right, two times past the third (no wounds). Click my inner Dirty Girl was unchained.

Apparently, she’s been smoldering under the surface for some time, just waiting for the right moment (and landscaping gloves) to ignite. Turns out, I love digging in the dirt. I was filling my third wheelbarrow of scraps and we were rounding the corner from dusk into night when the boys finally dragged me inside.

I took my gloves off. My hands were nice and soft, free of marks, wounds and dirt. I poured a glass of wine, put the chicken magnets on the fridge, and rubbed some shea-butter hand cream over my slightly sore fingers. Tim smiled at me. I think he knew all along he would one day free her from shackles.

The gloves have been joined by a trowel and pruning shears. I’ve removed years worth of overgrowth, two layers of weed barrier fabric, some random pockets of bark, and displaced more than a few earthworms. But the rose garden has been reshaped. I’m working toward flagstones and mulch. With gloves securely fastened, this recently liberated Dirty Girl can be found excavating earth on most sunny days, especially sunny Sundays in the Park.

Jenny Knaak, guest columnist, is the daughter of Teri Orr, the customary author of "Sunday in The Park."

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