Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nearer Than Eden

I am usually the only one at the beach farm at this time of the year, but this Sunday I was not alone. There was FEMA and the Red Cross, National Park Rangers from other states, sanitation workers, police, hovering copters, a ready fire department, and Wolf.

As I pulled into the lot I saw him moving slowly toward the garden, cigarette dangling from his lip. His restless and sweet autistic grandson with him as always, but given the cold wind, he remained in the car. Wolf thinks about planting his garlic now, although the work will wait until the new moon of early December. He planted this superstition in my mind last year, and I thought of it as I planted thousands of garlic cloves at the farm through dark nights of November's new moon.

Under Wolf's watchful eye, I turned over the garlic bed once again. It had settled under the inundation, now a stone's throw from its prior glory. In s-curves and coils on the surface, earthworms lay dessicated. As I turned each spade full, we scanned the soil for life, marveling at a termite, a wireworm, and two grubs. I brought a sack of alfalfa meal from the farm to rake into the bed, then, showing off the wheel dibble, marked rows for one hundred eighteen cloves of eleven strains from eight varieties and a handful of French grey shallots.

Afterward, I pulled the fennel seed from our plot, convinced that it would spread all over despite salt water inundation. In fact, the old plants were sending out new shoots -no matter the salt, no matter the season.

The crusty presence on top of the soil is salt. Sandy was a dry storm, for us, and it hasn't rained all that much here since the inundation, certainly not enough to wash the salt down through the soil. Sunday's strong northwesterly winds set grit to my teeth and left a mouth full of brine, reminding me of the hazards of bare soil. I collected a sample to send to a university that has begun testing soils for contaminants likely to have been present in the waters around the metropolitan area. Hydrocarbons, PCBs, sewage, et cetera, et cetera. I think we'll be clean, or at the least, cleaner than some.

As I left the blustery beach farm, I stopped to ask a NPS ranger what he thought would come of the garden. He said that he didn't know, that he was from another state and was only here to help out. He said the Park is a mess, in disarray, and they've a lot to do. Of course. We know that the NPS has, at best, mixed feelings about our little messy paradise. It has crossed our minds that the destruction and possible soil contamination could be reason enough to shut the garden down. I know some gardeners may not be coming back any time soon -they've lost their homes, so what's to garden for? Others will be back, if not until spring. Men like Wolf and myself are already back, turning our beds under the whopping of copters, planting our cloves to the electronica honking of a hundred lifting geese, all within the aura of disaster.


  1. Glad to hear you guys are allowed in the park. I doubt I can get garlic in this year. No word at all on when floyd bennett field will reopen to the public besides aviator. Last time I was there the garden was surrounded by hug gas tankers.

    1. Karen, I can't say we're "allowed" in the park or garden. It just seems everyone is so distracted that I can go in without anyone bothering to stop us. All the parking lots are staging areas. Fbf is end to end full with trailer trucks. I can't say we'll be eating the garlic, but I had it to plant so I did.

  2. can you tell the highest level of the water?

  3. Donna, some pics in this post. I'd say 2 feet or less. Tilden is a little higher than some other parts of the peninsula.


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...