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Deepest, darkest

potgarlicsm2.jpgThere was a rumor in my family when we were growing up that the soil in the south was red. A couple of my siblings had traveled from our home on the coast of Massachusetts to Florida to visit our grandparents, and they insisted it was true. Of course, we didn’t use the word soil then. We called it dirt, and red dirt was about as inconceivable to me as some of the other rumors I was beginning to hear, like the one about women bleeding and one about where babies came from.

When I was twenty, I restored the family garden. It was my father’s garden, and I remember him forcing us kids to work in it. We loved the corn suppers but not the watering and weeding. The older we got, the less of a hold my father had on us and the more overgrown the garden got.

When I reclaimed the garden I was recovering from a major clinical depression. I wasn’t doing things that other twenty year olds did. The decision to garden was a turning point. I remember paying my little brother five cents for every clod of dirt he could shovel up. Once they were free, he shook the dirt out and then flung them, pretending they were bombs. I mostly dug with my hands. I remember the dark brown earth and the smell of the nearby ocean. I remember planting, but I don’t recall harvesting or eating anything I grew then.

I was thirty-five with two young sons when I arrived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was the first time I saw mountains, other than the ones I had seen in my dreams. As a gardener, I was disappointed with the rocky red clay of Virginia. I had come to lead a country life, and so growing food would be important.

I figured there’s more than one way for people to be rich. We could have a lot of money or we could have few needs. We could get jobs that caused us to leave our home and families to make money to buy the things we need, or we could stay home and do our own work and provide the things we need directly.

No matter how much manure my husband and I shovel from the back of his pick-up onto our garden each spring, we can’t recreate the dark rich soil of the Massachusetts peninsula I grew up on. But we manage to grow a lot of food. Every time I dig up a potato I'm in awe. I remember the scene from “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlet O’Hara pulls a rotten potato from the earth, holds it up to the sky, and announces she will “never go hungry again.”

Scarlet O’Hara was of Irish descent, and so am I. Growing my own potatoes satisfies deeply rooted inherited feelings in me, those of lack and scarcity. A good crop of potatoes makes me feel more secure than having money does.

I have to dig deeper to harvest the roots of Echinacea and Valerian that grow in my garden. It’s a labor intensive task that makes my muscles ache. When the roots finally come loose, they’re caked with dirt. I spray them with the hose before I soak them in vodka to make medicinal tinctures. Echinacea strengthens my resistance. Valerian is a sedative, good for insomnia and anxiety.

Maybe it was a good thing that there were no anti-depressants when I was a young woman. From the ground up I’ve been healing myself. I’ve learned through growing food and by doing self-analysis therapy that treasure doesn’t tend to lie around for us to stumble over. We usually have to dig deep and trust the darkness to discover what enriches us.

Post note
: "Deepest, darkest" was this week's Sunday Scribblings writing prompt. More deep and dark scribblings can be found HERE.


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i've been battling with the 'deep and dark' feeling of depression today - i love the thought of 'digging free' of it

Colleen, I loved getting that glimpse of your gardening life. When all the kids were younger I had "raised bed gardens" and we bought and composted dirt
because we had clay "dirt" on the Texas Gulf Coast and you couldn't grow anything in it. It was so satisfying to gather our tiny harvest. I miss gardening. It is therapeutic!

That may be my favorite scene from GWTW...it is one of my favorite movies.


I've had depression for years and have tried everything new - from skiing to gardening to get past it.....no go.

This year's 'new thing' is re-enactment - dressing up in period clothes and living in castles at the weekend.

Today I baked my first loaf of hand made, hand kneaded bread....not bad for my first time!!


What a wonderful walk through. I still remember how eye-widening it was to see red soil for the first time.

Indeed, lack of options doesn't mean lack of strategies, just creativity in coping.

I really enjoyed reading this. Gardening is great therapy!

I so enjoyed reading this. I like the way you came at the topic, explored it thoroughly but never really revealed the darkness. Thank you for visiting ME today.

Growing up in Georgia I am familiar with that red, clay dirt! No amount of additives seem to permanently change the color! :-D I made pecan dirt pies out of it when I was a child and thought they were a grand dessert following the meal of mimosa bean soup!

Your life in Floyd reads like a peaceful story moving along at an easy pace, bringing meaningful communion with neighbors and friends, opening the door for creative instincts to thrive, and satisfying you on so many levels. I asked Patry recently when she was in Seattle, "wonder why so many people move to Floyd?" I kept noticing bloggers raving about the area! I think I just answered my own question!

Lovely post. From personal experience, the red clay of Georgia is the hardest to work with!

Sky, I just this morning emailed Patry and invited her to Floyd. If she does a southern dip for her book tour, I would love to hold a Liars Party for Patry, and my writer's group would enjoy meeting her. So would the bloggers. We have a good crop of them. Most of us are the type that would bake a pie to attract the muse, so I think Patry would feel at home here.

Very thoughtful posting; I enjoyed reading it. I'm a gardner too, and for many of the same reasons that you mention.

Such rich analysis and imagery.

Thank you for sharing your story. The Irish in me says YES!

As someone who is now learning to "dig deep and trust the darkness", I enjoyed reading about your experience. You may even have inspired me to try my hand at the garden...thank you!

I can understand this fear - perhaps it's shared by a lot of Irish people, due to the potato famine. It's nice that you enjoy growing food and herbs and get to enjoy your results.

This was an inspiring and thoughtful piece... we can learn so much from our connection to the earth.

i do love your writing colleen, and your country living attitude.

I love what you have found through gardening.
By digging deep we really do get to the root of who we are.
Thank you for sharing this story.

Colleen, I think it is great that you can grow your own herbs and medicinal plants and discern what is good for you!

Someone very close to me suffers from clinical depression. She has almost died on two occasions - died of sadness - but gardening has kept her alive. Now that I have bought 9 acres of olive grove in Marrakech, my hope is that she can come and garden...just a little...just a little less sadness.

The symbolism is so good. A wheelbarrow of truth in this post and it resonates as I plant my nandina and barberry in the front of the house.

We always had a garden as a kid growing up in Mass. I have my own house in NH now, but my yard is too small for a big beautiful garden. I do still plant a small one with maybe 30 or 40 plants in it. Its so theraputic for me to go out to my garden after work and weed, feed and dig. Nothing tastes better than food you grew.

Glad you are finding your way through the blessing that is your surrounding environment. You seem to have a good grounding in needs versus wants. Nicely written and some wonderful memories

This is so inspiring that you pulled yourself out of depression without drugs and I know all the ailments you deal with now so it is even more amazing that you keep the "deep and dark" at bay still!

The scene you recalled from Gone With The Wind is so perfect and sums up everything you've said beyond just the potato we eat, but what we need emotionally too.

A blogger friend of mine is Red Dirt Girl and she's from the Blue Ridge area. She does tons of poetry.

Although I'm an RN and have been in the medical field for years, I'm a firm believer in "alternative" medicines and treatments. I think there's a lot to be said for them.
And based on the dog food scare right now...."alternative" and "organic" just might be the RIGHT way to go!
I say....back to the earth!

I loved reading this -- it was meaningful on many different levels.

We have a whole lot of red dirt here that drives me nuts. At home our dirt seemed so rich and on my grandparents farm it was not that old red clay stuff but real soil for tobacco, corn, etc. Of course my grandparents may have worked it for years to get it that way. Where they have dug up for the pond I have a ton of the red clay (good for the pond I'm told) some silvery looking dirt that is really think that looks like clay to me and some real black rich dirt around the edges. That dirt I'm trying to move to my gardens! Funny how so many different things can be in one acre!

lovely and very meaningful post, colleen. i love how you tied in the gardening to digging out from depression....

i always had to help in our garden when i was growing up, but was banned from picking peas b/c i ate more than i picked. i have worked in many gardens since, including teaching gardening in the summer at the childrens home i used to work for....but i have never started one from scratch. i hope to when we settle and buy a house, but i have a feeling it will take me several years to really get the hang of it....

Digging deep into the dirt has to be one of the most satisfying activities. I'd like to try growing a few potatoes - it's definitely a cultural thing.

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