Shannon’s younger sister Flannery was two when I’d planted the asparagus in Jamestown, where we’d re-located that same week. Now, a year later, I fretted the same patch while remembering our youngest frolicking in the little trench when I filled it with water or pushed more dirt around the burgeoning stalks. If all went well, the packaging said, in three years we could begin harvesting. Now though, twelve months on and with local farms already selling their own asparagus, not a shoot had come up. Flan stared at the same ground that I did, while a now five-year old Shannon busied herself across the lawn.
When we moved I scarcely knew a thing about gardening. Shannon had a rough go in the Newport school system, and having heard that the next island over had a stouter special needs offering, Karen prompted the move, where for the first time in many years I’d live with a yard, a yard with soil. Twenty or so pines grow alongside the quarter acre, littering most of it with acidic needles that I’d soon learn don’t do much for fertility.
“Good for blueberries,” a neighbor said. “Not much else. You have to remediate.”
Having moved just in time, though, early May, I hacked out three beds from crab grass. The trees made finding steady sunlight a trick, but there was enough, and I placed twenty-eight potatoes on the little saltbox’s west side, a small lettuce-beet-carrot patch out front, and did the best I could with ten wads of asparagus roots on the eastern edge, where pines – white and pitch – reign.
The potatoes flourished, enlivening us all fall, while the island’s rife cottontail population mowed what paltry lettuce, carrot, and beet sprouts came up. Despite my not knowing anything about soil, however, by August two thin asparagus spears per root ball had bushed out, standing a couple of feet high and looking like tumbleweeds when November finally toppled them. I piled pine straw over the bed, thinking it might ward off deep freezes, but by mid-May was convinced all had failed. Now I stared at dirt, piquing Flan.
“What are you doing, Da-Da?”
With Shannon speechless at five and her sister forming complex syntax at three, Karen and I felt that we’d had two first children.
“Looking, Flan. Just looking.”
Squatted on the small bed’s edge, I scratched away some lingering pine needles before gently thumbing soil wherever there seemed to be a bulge.
“What for? What are you looking for?”
“Sprouts, Flan. Sprouts like you. You and Shannon.”
Flannery squatted alongside, already knowing not to step on the bed.
“What’s a sprout?”
“A baby plant, Flan. We’re hoping some will come up here.”
Ten yards away, where a rhododendron crowded the back deck, Shannon pulled the bush’s pink blossoms off in handfuls, flickering her fingers to watch petals flutter to grass. Her sounds varied, but for the last week she’d favored a loud, sheep-like bleat, ushered here between each flower haul.
“Shannon’s a lamb again, Da-Da.”
Jamestown, the lone township on Conanicut Island, has five active farms, two of which allow residents to wander freely, including right among their many sheep. Flannery and I often went when Shan was in therapy, thirty-plus hours of it a week now for the last three years.
“She certainly sounds like one, Flan,” I said, finally giving up on any new shoots for the day.
Shannon let forth another bleat, then yanked two fistfuls of petals, watching them drizzle down. Flan probed the soil as I had.
“When can we see the sprouts, Da-Da?”
I leaned forward, pushing dirt into three depressions where Shan had walked across the bed earlier that day. After smoothing the soil with a few back-and-forth swipes, I patted each reparation flat.
“I don’t know, Flan. I don’t know. We have to wait. We water, we weed, and we wait. After that, we just hope.”