Tim Billings “Breaking Ground”

This story appeared in the 2021 spring issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme, “Breaking Ground.”

Gasping for breath I let myself fall backwards to lie on the ground next to the taut and straining come-a-long. I gave it everything I had but the roots of the stump were unyielding in their resolution to stay at rest. I lie there for a bit to catch my breath and gather my resolve, my heart pounding in my ears from the labor. When it quieted, I got up, grabbed the maul, and headed over to have a persuasive argument with the stump. 

Our new backyard was an overgrown tangle of opportunistic species: multiflora rose, alder and horsetail to name a few – along with a healthy infestation of European fire ants. Walking around, I became convinced that our backyard had originally been part of the adjoining field next door that someone had let go. I fired up the chainsaw with the goal of bringing it back. It took that summer and fall to cut, burn and finally chip everything to where I could get a good look at the property.

It had been quite a while since I had been able to have a garden and there was a nice-looking spot for one. Long on determination and short on cash I started pulling stumps with a come-a-long, shovel and maul – old school. The soil seemed great to me, with not even a pebble to be found in it. By the third spring I was able to build a fence around the spot, till it up and plant a garden, including my favorite crop: Silver Queen corn. When September rolled around, I sat outside eating Silver Queen off the cob and admiring the garden and thought, “You know what we need now? Another garden and some chickens.”

Tim Billings 

Southwest Harbor, Maine 

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