I know that I've said this before, but I love touching things. When I like the way something looks, I have to find out how it feels.
After school today, Tea asked me if I wanted to go with her to the neighbor's house to get some tomato seedlings to plant in the garden. Of course I said "yes." I love getting my hands dirty.
As we walked down the road empty-handed, I wondered how we were going to carry tomato plants back to the house -- knowing that Georgians' plant huge gardens with plenty of every kind of plant, I knew that we would be bringing back more than a half-dozen seedlings. I didn't ask; I decided to wait and see what method of transport emerged.
The neighbor led us back to her garden already full of small corn, eggplant, cucumber, pepper, and tomato plants. I'm not sure what I expected for the tomato seedlings -- maybe seedlings started the way we start them in the U.S. -- single plants in small containers (peat-pots for the environmentally-friendly). Well, that was not what I found. As I watched the neighbor pulling plants up by the roots, it didn't register at first that these were the tomato plants. I thought that she had grabbed a handful of weeds and yanked them out. Oh no -- they were indeed the tomato plants. A small patch of ground had been coated with tomato seeds, and the seedlings sprouted and were growing all together. Transporting was going to happen by the handful, and transplanting was going to happen by the bare roots.
Tea and I each had two handfuls of excavated shoots when we headed back out the gate toward the house.
It had rained off and on for the last twenty-four hours (or maybe more), so the ground was soft and moist -- perfect for planting. Tea quickly dug about seventy holes at regular intervals all across one of the garden plots. I chose the best seedlings with thick stems and healthy leaves, and laid a plant in each hole. Then we went back and filled the holes with dirt by hand, breaking up the cool clumps of earth over the roots and stem, leaving the bright green herbage fanned out above the ebony-colored soil.
At one point I stood up to stretch my legs and back. My hands were black with the rich earth. I breathed deeply, inhaling the dewey, muggy scent of life. I love that smell. (To steal my friend Katherine's facebook status from today; a quote from Margaret Atwood, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." I heartily agree.)
Last night's experience was quite different.
I was just getting ready to head to my room for the night when Koba called to me from the front yard, "Stepani! Erti tsutit!" (Stephanie, come here for a minute!) Tea and I looked at each other with puzzled expressions and headed out the door. Koba was standing in front of the garage door with an expectant grin on his face, pointing at the ground about ten feet in front of him. There, squatted on the concrete apron in front of the garage was a biggest toad I have ever seen outside of a zoo. It was bigger than my hand. From nose to "tail," it was at least eight inches long. Its fat belly gushed out on the sides over its sinewy legs and feet, and the bumpy, dry skin hung off its body as if it were a sweater that got stretched out in the wash.
Of course I was fascinated! I got within a few feet of it to see if it would jump away, but it remained perfectly still. I looked at Tea and asked if it was dangerous in any way -- poisonous -- or if I could pick it up. She said that it was safe, and then covered her face with her hands, cringing as I slowly inched forward. Elene, "Our Grandmother," and Tea's sister Teona had all come of the house to see what was going on. Everyone held their breath as I stealthily advanced on the unsuspecting amphibian. I sneaked up on it from the back, hands hovering just two inches above the warty bulk when I wondered for a split second if I should really do this.
I grabbed the toad underneath its armpits and held onto its belly. Simultaneously, every female watching squealed.... including me! Koba shook his head and laughed. I carried it over to where everyone was huddled together.
The paunchy bulge felt cold and damp in my hands, its skin was indeed too big for it -- it slipped and glided around the solid form as the toad's legs gave a couple of half-hearted kicks in protest at being held. It was huge and heavy. I shuddered a couple of times in revulsion at the nastiness of how the toad felt -- it wasn't smooth and sleek like a frog. When I couldn't stand holding onto it any longer, I set it back down on the ground. With slow, weighted hops, it disappeared around the side of the house into the shadows.
I disappeared into the house to wash my hands.