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Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau: The Shepherd David Triumphant (circa 1895)
"The lion won this round."

I think of myself as shepherding our garden. I suspect that a shepherd's primary talent lies in his patience. Sheep won't hurry. They can be influenced but not through hysterics, same as gardens. Nothing replaces slow and steady when digging dirt or herding sheep. I spend most of my gardening time on my knees in penitent service to the soil which, after all, I am trying to coax into doing my bidding for the season and hopefully longer. I go after the cheatgrass first, removing every trace of rhizome however deep it might run. I loosen the soil before adding compost, peat, and perlite, then I work that in as if I'm mixing cake batter. I might work each bed three or even four times before I'm satisfied enough to water in the result to confirm proper drainage. It's slow work best attempted at a steady pace. I tend to lose full awareness of my immediate surroundings when I'm in my gardening trance. Time loses meaning. I'm in no particular hurry then.

Occasionally a shepherd encounters a mortal enemy to his flock.
Then, he can seem just as fierce as the predator he faces. He'll resort to almost any response to protect his flock. Even a Quaker pushed to his edge might invoke TheNuclearOption in apparent violation of his underlying beliefs. Gardeners, too, have their limits. They might adhere to the strictest standards but relax those rules when real threats appear. Morningglory cannot be dug out and must be poisoned. I limit myself to topical applications, but I keep the weapon close at hand in my gardening tool box, whitch follows me around more as a promise than a threat. I'm not above using it, but only as a last resort, and I'll check to see if anybody's watching first. I do not want to advertise my temporary ferocities.

The pear tree stump I'd thought I'd burned out which sits along the edge of our vegetable garden has outlived its usefulness. It's a tough old sucker, gnarled within, and seems awfully insistent. I pulled out my splitting wedges, an extreme weapon but hardly nuclear. I hammered each in place, trying to read my foe's weaknesses, hoping to crack its back and perhaps remove it in quarters. I rejected the notion of digging it out since its roots probably spread to China and I had no stomach for excavation. I set my wedges thoughtfully and pounded away, receiving a few reassuring cracks along the way, but no clear break. By the end of that effort, all four wedges were stuck in place and I'd not found the weakness I'd sought. Time, I decided, to consider TheNuclearOption, by which I meant power equipment.

I tried to drill out the wedges first. Two broken drill bits later, I had begun to appreciate my foe's nature. The swirling grain could trap anything like it had already captured my wedges. I told the stump that I'd decided to just leave it in place. I'd build a compose heap on top of it and let natural rot eventually remove it, but first, I wanted my wedges back. I called my son-in-law, who retains a nuclear arsenal since he's never met a power tool he has not lusted after owning. I asked to borrow one of his SawsAlls, a nuclear weapon if I've ever seen one. It features a long steel blade and works like a Great White Shark, relentlessly back and forth. It's supposed to saw through anything and I had become desperate, so I borrowed that big gun.

The stump more or less shrugged off the Great White. It could dent the stump, but not very deeply penetrate it. My earlier drilling had freed up one wedge and so I began pounding it along the sides of the still frozen ones, then nicking with the shark. I was sweating through my havelock by then, sun burning on my shoulders. I bruised a finger. I continued my assault. An hour and a half later, I'd freed my last wedge having finally cracked off perhaps an eighth of my gnarly opponent. I called the game. I limped away dragging my armada behind me with one SawsAll blade broken in the engagement. Not even TheNuclearOption yielded success. That stump will look much better with a compost heap over the top of it. The lion won this round.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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