Good Ole Fashioned Manual Labor

A week of perfect springtime weather gets the gardener outside sifting soil. Shovels make the lawn a gauntlet. Muscles dormant from a lazy winter are strained awake.

Wendell Berry has some favorite feelings, and work-weariness and earned rest are among them. Read his poem “Goods” here. I understand his sentiment. I doubt I would put so much physical effort into much else.

It’s curious to me that I don’t have a natural gardening inclination. I don’t really consider myself lazy. I anticipate vegetable growth and boxes of produce dirtying the kitchen table, but I fail to look at my backyard in the springtime with any sense of exaggerated joy. Gardening is so much work. Dirt is heavy. I think I lost my triceps. Oh man, I’m going to pull something. That’s not a threat, that’s a promise.

I can’t figure out a way to grow my own food without growing my own food. I could pay someone to perform the heavy manual labor, but that’d negate the whole “growing it myself” thing.

So, I hoist up my attitude and set myself to the task. My partner and fellow land steward is a good motivator and mentor. He laughs at me when I ask him to chase away the bees. He says “Just a little longer” with enough sweetness that I can’t help but keep working.

The laborious afternoon behind us, our backs ache in the deep places. I found my triceps. The raised beds in the backyard show our work and care.

I rediscover the awesomeness of a hot shower after hours moving dirt, just like I did last year in its second week of May.

Ezra Weston addressed the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1845 and said, “he who cultivates a garden, and brings to perfection flowers and fruits, cultivates and advances at the same time his own nature.”

Poet May Sarton, a Mainer, was also a gardener who lived by the sea. She is quoted for saying, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”

Leave it to a gardener poet and a poet gardener to speak the truth.

Jenna Beaulieu

About Jenna Beaulieu

Jenna is a writer and fine art photographer who recently moved from the Saint John Valley region to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. She’s a fan of excellent music, homemade gravy, and colored pencils (also, short books and long books, good pens, flannel, and when the June bugs don’t really come out much that year). For more about Jenna and her work, visit her website at