The early morning air was crisp, and it frosted my breath as I crossed the yard. Excited birds commented from on high, their jabbering overtaking the soft thrum of distant traffic.
I knelt and dug my fingers into the soil. It was still cool but warming, still firm but softening.
In the midst of a holy week and weekend when hope is the message for so many people of faith, I was pursuing my own little secular miracle.CartoonMatt Davies' latest cartoon: "Coming for your guns"CommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in Newsday
It was planting time.
This was round one: lettuce and chard, beets and peas, spinach and kale and arugula. Next month, as the weather warms, it'll be tomatoes and zucchini, eggplant and beans, cucumbers and peppers and basil. The berries -- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries -- are perennial and will reappear when they're ready.
My wife and I have been growing food for years, but I still find the process remarkable. You start with dirt and a seed and a few months later you're slicing the juiciest tomato you can imagine.
The enterprise echoes the season's themes of resurrection, new life and new growth. And it has its own series of comforting rituals -- the mixing and churning of manure and peat moss and compost deep into the soil, the smoothing with a rake, the plotting of which seeds go where, and the planting and watering and trellising and caging.
It's a process of affirmation, with lessons that stretch far beyond botany.
Tending a garden teaches respect -- for the intricate interplay of soil, seeds, water and sun.
It teaches adaptability -- a little more irrigation today, a little less next time.
It teaches diligence -- always keep watch for certain insects, diseases and weeds.
It teaches patience -- nothing grows by tomorrow.
And it teaches self-control -- like when you're picking raspberries in the middle of a deep thorny thicket like ours, surrounded by armies of bees and wasps of all sorts and sizes buzzing the flowers that have not yet turned to fruit, knowing that if you respect each other's space and purpose and move about with care, you'll all get along just fine.
I watch as our world combusts with anger and furious words and intemperate acts and I wish we all could have our own garden out back. I'd love to give a raspberry patch to every braying politician.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables also shows that you can't predict the future simply by observing the present. Just look at those seeds.
A pea seed is, well, a pea. But curly green kale is a smooth dark pellet. Towering leafy Swiss chard is a jagged piece of granola. Spinach is a tiny pebble. Red lettuce is an off-white flake.
What you see now, in other words, is not necessarily what will blossom. I like to think the same about people.
You also can mark time by a garden. The first planting is done in mid-March (except in cases like this year when winter, declining to depart gently, left snow on the ground whenever we planned to plant). The asparagus pushes up proudly in April. The salad greens arrive in May. Blueberries come in June. And on it goes, with dirt under my fingernails and a smile on my face.
The many separate plots that make up our garden are each an expression of hope. You expect a result but you work to get it. Nothing is guaranteed. And if you do it right, a little bit of earthly heaven is your reward.
Sometimes I talk to my seeds as I place them into the soil. I would say I gently implore them. But if you like, you can call it prayer.
Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.