‘Sam,” I yell, trying to make myself heard over the deep, businesslike rumble of the chainsaw. But he doesn’t hear, ears encased under the hearing protection and his attention absorbed by the log he’s about to turn into lumber with the Alaskan mill. I wave, desperate to share my exciting news. But there is no reaction other than the chainsaw’s growl switching to a higher pitch as it begins to eat through the log, spitting out pale sawdust to the side.
Sam is working on our latest building project: a greenhouse extension. Eager to share my garden-related tidings with him, I pounce the minute he pulls the saw out of the cut. Relative silence descends when he shuts it off. The sounds of flies, mosquitoes, bees and birds hang suspended in the fume-drenched air. “What?” Sam asks, blinking away the sawdust that coats his face and eyelashes.
“The asparagus survived,” I say triumphantly, trying hard not to gloat. I’m fond of garden experiments, each of which involves a lengthy discussion about whether it’s worth it to sacrifice crucial garden space for what might turn out to be a complete dud. Wresting away half a raised bed from the peas, carrots, potatoes and cabbages for asparagus had not been an easy feat last year.
“Are you sure this time?” Sam raises a dusty eyebrow, not wanting to get excited prematurely. Just two weeks ago and giddy with joy, I had ushered him into the garden for the same reason. Thick solid spears were pushing up against the soil in the asparagus bed, their fleshy tips a promise of mouth-watering meals. When the grocery store isn’t just a short or even long drive away but simply not an option at all, the growing of things takes on a whole new level of excitement. Forget the Stanley Cup. The garden is where the action is.
Dutifully, Sam had admired the asparagus-to-be, admitting that his doubts about the vegetable’s hardiness and ability to survive up here were utterly unfounded. The ecstasy, the meal planning, the vindication of my garden experiment lasted about 36 hours. Within that time, the plants had grown a tiny bit taller and developed an unsettling semblance to fireweed shoots. I dug and to my dismay exposed a healthy colony of impostors: fireweed had taken over the bed. No wonder that Sam wasn’t ready to accept another asparagus miracle without hard evidence.
“It’s really growing,” I assure Sam. “I’ll show you.”
He beats the sawdust off his chaps and follows me over to the garden. I debate if I should prepare him for what the asparagus looks like but decide against it. He’s a big boy. The garden beds are dotted with small specks of green, the beginnings of our harvest that always seems to take too long, no matter how early we start. We’re eating salads made of willow and wild rose leaves these days, sprinkled with the infernal fireweed, while our little lettuce transplants are still wrestling with the shock of having all this room around their roots now.
“Here,” I say and hunch down by the asparagus bed. Sam narrows his eyes. “Here where?” he asks, scanning the mulch of old straw. I point to the sticks I’ve stuck into the soil as markers. Sam squints harder. “What – that?” he asks, aghast.
“They’re still tiny,” I explain. A strange mixture of embarrassment and pride washes over me as I push the straw away so we can admire the asparagus better. Like so many antennas, skinny little green shoots point out of the soil. And I do mean skinny and little: they are the exact size of sewing needles. Well, perhaps some of them approach the diameter of a darning needle.
Sam lowers his head onto the soil to gaze at the bonsai asparagus. “They really survived,” he whispers reverently. Then, his voice suffused with hope: “Will they grow any bigger than this, do you think?”
Unsure of whether I can call this experiment a success, considering the size of these things, I say: “No idea. I sure hope so. But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.