Everybody has a Story: Gardening project provided solace after 9/11 attacks

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Sept. 11 struck. A steady stream of horrible images and anguish flooded the media 24/7. Like many people, my wife and I sought ways to deal with the agony. My full-time job provided some escape. But for days Linda was at home dealing with the tragedy by herself. She turned to gardening as emotional diversion.

Gardening has been Nature’s way of showing me who’s boss. It has meant throwing out my back and groaning on a sofa for several weeks, while finding out just how bad daytime television is. This ritual is repeated each spring and each fall. Just as a boat is a hole into which you pour money, a garden is many holes into which you do likewise.

But for Linda, gardening is a way of finding solace. She needed it now.

We had started a gravel garden walk. We had already removed the sod, dug out a foundation for the new path around the house, laid down fabric cloth, graveled the path with a few truck deliveries of gravel and bordered it all with bricks.

Now, my wife pitched herself into finishing the project — but the tragedy must have diminished her patience. Instead of carefully preparing the remaining ground for the path, she took shortcuts. Rather than dig out the sod, she placed newspapers over the ground to deprive grass and weeds of sunlight. (No disrespect, but The Columbian provides good mulch.) Then she spread weed-barrier fabric over that and called it good. Since no dirt had been removed, only a few inches of gravel could cover the path.

Results were predictable. If you stubbed your toe on the path, the underlying fabric was exposed. Invasive tree roots wrecked the path, raising it so that the gate would not shut. Moles may be pretty much blind, but their eyes must have really widened when they took a gander at this new real estate. The newspapers gave them a great roof with an R-30 insulation value.

That makeshift construction has bothered her for the past 10 years. She’s thought about redoing it, but for whatever reasons put it off. This May, she again decided to redo what had been done in haste, but again the project was delayed by incessant cold rain. Would spring ever come?

Finally we caught a day or two of sun. After I shoveled off the offending few inches of gravel from the path and headed for the sofa, she began to pull up the fabric. Underneath, Linda found a layer of what looked like carbonized material, and underneath that a series of subway tunnels provided by moles.

This time my wife would clear the ground and dig a new foundation. A few pieces of newspaper still remained, though much had been reduced to carbon and what looked like ash. Partial headlines and bits of photos brought back haunting images of al-Qaida and the attacks of Sept. 11.

That night, a news bulletin interrupted my mindless television stupor. It was the president saying that Osama bin Laden had been killed and justice had been done. Of all days! For 10 years, Osama had lain in darkness under our path, only now to be exposed both here and in Pakistan.

We now follow our new path.

Everybody Has A Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. E-mail is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or Everybody Has A Story, P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.