"I need to get a truck-full of manure," said my mother.
It was Thursday evening and we were driving down Versailles Plank Road in North Collins, on our way to eat dinner at Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Rob's in Silver Creek. Her eyes had drifted over the field next to Turnbull's Nursery, specifically over the large manure heap in their field.
Of course I knew what she was talking about: she needed manure to mulch the gardens behind her house in Eden. But if she had said this anywhere else in front of anyone else, someone might have looked at her like she was crazy ... Or, in Manhattan, they might have dropped their trousers and asked, "How much you offering?"
I kept driving, silently smiling to myself.
I was home last week to celebrate my mother's belated birthday. As always my visit was short and sweet: visiting family, eating out in downtown Buffalo, biking along the River Walk in Tonawanda.
But my favorite time was at dusk when we arrived home and sat on the back porch to talk.
I always love it that sensual, outdoorsy tang of forest, creek, and freshly churned dirt. It makes me nostalgic.
"I've been working on the gardens like crazy," mom had said one night. My eyes swam past the many hostas that swathe the porch, and waded in the flower and herb beds. The weeds had been replaced by soil that looked like chocolate cake.
"You did a good job," I said. I breathed deep; a tingle of happiness bumped my skin. I pictured my mother out there on here knees, dirt streaked across her forehead and forearms. The image was as comforting as the choir of crickets on an August evening.
"I love my gardens," she said. Her cheeks were high as she looked out with pride over the foliage my mother was smiling again.
Gardening has many rewards; those of which I've never been able to fully appreciate.
The avid gardener enjoys the benefits of regular doses of vitamin D, exercise, meditation, self-fulfillment, and of course, getting in touch with nature.
But putting your nose to the dirt itself has a powerful affect on one's mental health, too.
Mycobacterium vaccae is a nonpathogenic species of the Mycobacteriaceae family of bacteria that lives naturally in soil. Its name originates from the Latin word, vacca, since it was first cultured from cow dung in Austria. It has been shown to boost the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in both humans and mice. In other words, it works in much the same manner as antidepressant pills.
The drug-like effects of soil were discovered by accident about a decade ago.
A doctor named Mary O'Brien created a serum out of the bacteria and gave it to lung-cancer patients, in hopes that it might boost their immune systems. Instead, she noticed another effect: the hospital patients perked up. They reported feeling happier and suffered from less pain than the patients who did not receive doses of bacteria. Further studies on mice confirmed the mood-boosting effect.
Scientists call it "geosmin" that "dirt smell."
My mother has found a sort of truth amidst her gardens in Eden; she is indefatigable in her quest to create beauty there.
Through doing so she refutes the black hole of meaninglessness that is carried along on the conviction that we are living in the prelude to the apocalypse that becomes the excuse for doing nothing, or the explanation for the short-sighted, self-centered mind frame that so much of our society has become.
On our way home Thursday evening, my mother dozed in the passenger seat and I opened the window.
The crickets were singing, the shadows becoming norm. I faintly smelled the tangy sweetness of manure in the distance a scent that would only grow stronger the closer we got to home.